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 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!
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.
Gabriel Cortez is a poet, educator, and organizer. His work has appeared in The New York Times, National Public Radio, The Rumpus, and The Breakbeat Poets Anthology Volume 4. He is a VONA fellow, #BARS workshop alum, Palette Poetry Emerging Poet winner, and recipient of the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize. 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 Oakland's creative scene with their signature micro-festival day parties and high-quality events.
Associate Director of Programs
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 been 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.
Finance & HR Manager
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.
Vania Luna Gutierrez
Lead Teaching Artist
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.
Lead Teaching Artist
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
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.
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.
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.
Part-Time Teaching Artist
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
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.
Tayleur is a poet, New Yorker, Howard University alumna and the founder of Gold Beams.
She began her career working on the corporate marketing and merchandising teams at AARP, Gap, and Banana Republic. Tayleur has also taught spoken word at Oakland School for the Arts and worked on the event production team at the Oakland Museum of California. She currently volunteers for the Toasted Life brand and sits on the Howard Alumni Association, San Francisco/Bay Area chapter as well as the Oakland Art Murmur boards.
Tayleur dedicates herself to honing her skill of curating art-filled experiences for Black people through her organization, Gold Beams. Founded in 2018, Gold Beams curates events, experiences, programming, and productions for Black creatives and her Black community at large. The brand has curated concerts, cabarets, music series+, and is widely known for its signature open mic, Second Mondays. Gold Beams has partnered with organizations like the San Francisco Exploratorium, the Black Joy Parade, Lyft, Red Bull, Oakstop, The Life is Living Festival, and more to bring productions to life.
Tayleur’s goal is to be in inspiring spaces with inspiring people and to support Black creatives making careers from their art.
Troy Rockett (he/they) is a multidisciplinary artist and theatremaker based in Oakland, CA. Troy works across the mediums of poetry, performance and visual art. He has a Master’s in English Literature and Creative Writing and is a VONA Voices Fellow, an Astraea Lesbian Writer's Fund recipient, and a 2021 Titan Award winner with Theatre Bay Area.
In 2012 Troy performed as part of an ensemble to present Chorus: A Literary Mixtape with Saul Williams at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. The performance incorporated live music and spoken word and sparked his interest in multimedia performance. He sought out community classes to learn more. Queer Women of Color Media Arts Project (QWOCMAP) provided extensive training and support in filmmaking and production. He has worked with independent artists, indie film projects, arts organizations and local black box theaters to attract audiences to radical storytelling.
His vision for production and collaboration continues to be shaped by leaders who hold the art of world-building as a ritualistic and communal practice. He has most recently learned from directors Mina Morita and Karina Gutiérrez in a 2021 production at Crowded Fire Theater. Visit his website for more of his work. troyrockett.com
Poetry Coalition Fellow
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.