SISTERALL TWO: OUR NAME IS OUR OWN™
Click on any of the speakers' pictures to skip to her biography!
Ruby Nell Sales
Ruby Nell Sales is a deeply committed social activist, scholar, public theologian and educator. She is an excellent public speaker and preacher who has spoken and preached in churches and other venues around the country.
Ruby attended Tuskegee Institute, Manhattanville College, and Princeton University. Most recently, in 1998, Ruby received a Masters of Divinity degree from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was the Absalom Jones Scholar and she received the Social Justice Award upon graduation.
While studying at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, Ruby became involved in the Southern Freedom Movement (commonly known as the Civil Rights Movement). She became a student volunteer with the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Lowndes County, Alabama. As a volunteer, she worked alongside local Black people on a Freedom Summer voter registration drive.
Those were terrible and violent days in “Bloody Lowndes County.” One day, Ruby was arrested with other SNCC volunteers and local young Blacks for protesting against a company store system that robbed local black sharecroppers. On the day that they were released, Jonathan Daniels, a white seminarian and SNCC volunteer, walked to the corner store with Ruby and two others to purchase sodas for members of the group who had also been released. As they approached the steps of the store, Tom Coleman a local white man shot at them. Jonathan pushed Ruby out of the range of the bullet and he was killed instantly while saving her life. Unnerved and unable to speak significantly for seven months, Ruby was determined to attend the trial of Daniels' murderer, Tom Coleman, and to testify on behalf of her slain colleague.
Upon leaving the Southern Freedom Movement, Ruby resumed her formal education. She later formed two organizations, Black Women’s Voices and Images and Women of All Colors, that provided common spaces for women to come together to preserve and promote their voices and their lives. Her training as a seminarian coupled with her life experiences prepared Ruby to launch the SpiritHouse Project in 2000.
Ruby’s activities and achievements are numerous. Ruby was a contributing editor to The Other Side Magazine and has appeared as a commentator on several television programs and on Pacifica Radio in Washington, D.C. and throughout the nation. Ruby was a founding member of Sage Magazine: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women. Ruby received a Certificate of Gratitude for her work on Eyes on the Prize. Additionally, Ruby is part of the Veterans of Hope documentary series and was featured in Broken Ground: A Film on Race Relations in the South, by Broken Ground Productions. In 2000, Dan Rather spotlighted Ruby on his American Dream Segment. Ruby’s work and story is cited in numerous books and publications. In 1999, Selma, Alabama gave her the key to the city to honor her contributions there. In 2004, The History Makers organization selected her as a HistoryMaker.
Throughout Ruby’s career, she has worked with artists/performers and scholars that include Suheir Hammad, June Jordan, Alice Walker, Stacyann Chin, Jayne Cortez, Evelyn Harris, Alexis Deveaux, Renita Weems, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Jill Nelson, Barbara Ramsey, Jean Wiley, Toshi Reagon, Beverly Guy Sheftall and Bell Hooks, Hattie Gossett, Papusa Molina, Reverb, Betty Freidan, and Ray McGovern.
Cheryl Smith Blankenship
Cheryl Smith Blankenship brings several decades of finely honed skills to the SpiritHouse Project and this initiative, SisterAll Two: Our Name is Our Own™. Before coming to assist SpiritHouse on a full time basis, Cheryl worked with the federal government, with various types and sizes of institutions of higher education, and with non-profit organizations. During her career, Cheryl envisioned and created programs, formulated and implemented policies developed and improved administrative, communication and service delivery systems as well served as an ombudsman to bridge the divide between diverse communities.
Cheryl is highly regarded for her financial management skills and experiences. In one of her positions with the federal government, she served as Senior Program Officer for AmeriCorps and was responsible for approximately 300 programs in 24 states and territories that had an annual award value of approximately $100 million. As Associate Bursar for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cheryl managed the student billing and revenue collection processes for undergraduate, graduate and former students that had a financial value in excess of $200 million annually. Cheryl has served on the boards of and as staff for several non-profit organizations supporting their fundraising and administrative management efforts.
Cheryl serves as the Manager of Production and Administration at SpiritHouse. As such, she handles all of SpiritHouse’s financial transactions and monitoring, takes a project from the beginning to end interfacing with writers, agents, performers, venues, and outreach. Additionally, she manages the day to day fiscal and operational business of SpiritHouse. In this role, Cheryl also manages SpiritHouse’s donor portfolio.
Michelle E. Armster
Michelle Armster is a creative soul, weaving song and drama through all dimensions of her life. She has brought creativity to the variety of places in which she has found herself along her life journey: from lead vocalist of Class Action, an adult contemporary band to her current one-woman show, "God’s Image Carved in Ebony: The Testimony of Mrs. Amanda Berry Smith, the Singing Pilgrim.”
Equally as important, Michelle is an activist and the director of the Mennonite Central Committee’s Mennonite Conciliation Service in Akron, PA. She provides resourcing, consulting and training for churches, agencies and communities. She has many years of extensive training in meditation, facilitation, conciliation, restorative justice, arbitration, victim/offender mediation, anti-racism and alternatives to violence.
Michelle currently serves on the board of the SpiritHouse Project and the PRASI Leadership Council. Michelle was the former board chair of the Lancaster Mediation Center, where she also serves as a volunteer mediator, and Executive Committee of Lancaster NAACP. Michelle completed an Eastern Mennonite University Graduate Certification program in Conflict Transformation. She is currently enrolled in Lancaster Theological Seminary Master’s of Divinity program.
Performers for April 6 and 7
Staceyann Chin is a fulltime artist. A resident of New York City and a Jamaican National, she has been an "out poet and political activist" since 1998. From the rousing cheers of the Nuyorican Poets' Cafe to one-woman shows Off- Broadway to poetry workshops in Denmark and London to co-writer and performer in the Tony nominated, Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, Chin credits the long list of "things she has done" to her grandmother's hard-working history and the pain of her mother's absence.
Chin was the winner of the 1999 Chicago People of Color Slam; first runner- up in the 1999 Outright Poetry Slam; winner of the 1998 Lambda Poetry Slam; a finalist in the 1999 Nuyorican Grand Slam; winner of the 1998 and 2000 Slam This!; and winner of WORD: The First Slam for Television. She has also been featured by cable access programs in Brooklyn and Manhattan as well as many local radio stations including, WHCR and WBAI. The Joseph Pap Public Theatre has featured this young poet on more than one occasion, and Staceyann has enjoyed great success internationally, with much lauded performances in London, Denmark, Germany, and New York's own Central Park- Summer Stage.
Her individual performances warranted her work being published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Pittsburgh Daily. Her work was also featured on 60 Minutes. Her poems can be found in her first chapbook, Wildcat Woman, the one she now carries on her back, Stories Surrounding My Coming, and numerous anthologies, including Skyscrapers, Taxis and Tampons, Poetry Slam, Role Call, Cultural Studies: Critical Methodologies. Staceyann’s voice can be heard on CD compilations out of Bar 13- Union Square, Pow Wow productions and many more.
"Hands Afire", Staceyann's first one-woman show ran for ten weeks at the Bleecker Theater in the Summer of 2000. The same Off-Broadway Theater welcomed the 2nd Show, "Unspeakable Things" in the summer of 2001 before she took it to Copenhagen for a week long run. London, Helsinki, Sweden and Norway are in the line-up to see the new generation of the show.
Chin has also been the subject of on-screen ventures; from clips and interviews on NBC, CNN, VH1, and BET to performances on the CBS aired Tony Award show. The film Staceyann Chin was released in theaters in Denmark in 2001. It was also aired on the Danish National Television station. Between the Lines, a documentary that explores the notion of being Asian and woman and writer, is the latest to feature Staceyann.
Yasmeen can sing anything! She is a spiritual carrier, a bridge of the old to the new. She has a unique way of blending a deep soul sound into various genres - from the classics to the gospel to jazz to hymns to hip hop to the blues to spirituals … whatever. She has a remarkable ear, remarkable stage presence, and most of all a remarkable spirit for music - be it with instrumentation or a cappella. Yasmeen sang a cappella with her sisters and other family members as a child. She is a conduit for the music of her ancestors, music hardly heard anymore anywhere!
Yasmeen is a singer, lyricist, published songwriter, author, professional counselor, and mother of the awesome voice of her daughter Summer. She grew up under the singing voices of her mother from Alabama, her father from South Carolina, gospel hall of fame cousin named Shirley Ables, church organists Professor Henry Mansfield and Professor Dorothy Davis, voice teacher Frederick "Wilkie" Wilkerson and Joy McClean Bosfield and cultural icon Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, with acting training from the D.C. Black Repertory Company directed by actor Robert Hooks.
Yasmeen sang with the internationally acclaimed a cappella sextet Sweet Honey In The Rock for approximately twenty years and shortly thereafter for five years with Jeff Majors. Yasmeen has a solo CD written in 1991, which is still in demand in 2007 throughout the country. "I've gotten a request for the same CD at least once a month for over fifteen years" she adds. Yasmeen writes educational programs that integrate music and English, music and Social Studies, music and the African-American culture - all of which could be taught on the middle, secondary, and college level. She has a Bachelors Degree in English, a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology and is finishing a Doctorate in Educational Psychology. When asked why she sings she replies "I sing because I have to". But you will listen and be touched because you’ll want to.
Ange Smith is a fourth generation singer/musician/entertainer beginning with her great grandfather, Frank Parks, who was a traveling guitarist singer during the early 20th century. Until the age of thirty, Ange sang in her mother's church choirs and was encouraged by her mother to sing solos. A wife and mother at an early age, Ange devoted herself to her family and later to her college education. It was during her last two years in college that she discovered that she could easily sing jazz standards and was a natural for swing.
Ange's formal study includes private voice classes with metropolitan Opera singers/instructors, Sergio Pezetti, Emelia Cundari and Elio Genari. Jazz studies continued with a famed trumpeter, Marcus Belgrave's Jazz Development Workshop. At the Workshop, Ange met and began to work with many of Detroit's top jazz cats. Stretching her wings, Ange later fronted her own band, working for many years with Earl Van Riper, Gary Blumer, Don Mayberry and many more, while simultaneously soloing in many of the great Detroit area churches.
Ange's road trips/venues include Teatro del Opera in Rome, Italy for the Festival di Roma, the Newport Jazz Festival, Montreau-Detroit Jazz Festival and opening for Motown's Contours, Verdi's opera Aiida and "Ain't Misbehavin." Ange's recording "Let My People Go" won her the Detroit Music Awards Best Gospel Vocalist Award in 1995. She has two more CD's to her credit. Additionally, Ange writes and composes highly acclaimed musical plays for young people. Currently, she facilitates "Remembering with Joy" grief workshops where she uses her soothing mellifluous voice for healing.
Aya de Leon
Writer, performer, hip hop theater artist, poetic activist, and community healer Aya de Leon lives in the Oakland Bay Area. Her work has received acclaim in the Village Voice, Washington Post, American Theatre Magazine, the Oakland Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle. She was named best discovery in theater for 2004 by the SF Chronicle, and also in 2004, she received a Goldie award from the SF Bay Guardian in spoken word. In 2005 she was voted "Slamminest Poet" in the annual East Bay Express Best of the Bay.
In November 2006, Aya performed in Voices of a People's History with Mos Def, Alice Walker, Luis Valdez, Howard Zinn, Anthony Arnove, and others. In April of 2005, Aya and Mos Def co-hosted a kickoff rally for Current TV, Al Gore's new cable network. In 2004, she appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, and was a finalist for Showtime's American Candidate Reality TV series.
Aya has shared the stage with a wide range of performers, including hip hop and spoken word artists Mos Def, KRS ONE, The Roots, Saul Williams, De La Soul, The Coup, Mystic, Sarah Jones and Danny Hoch; literary artists Sonia Sanchez, Tillie Olsen, Walter Mosley and Alice Walker; musicians Tracy Chapman, Bonnie Raitt, Alanis Morrisette, Susana Baca, and activists Danny Glover, Barbara Lee, Julia Butterfly Hill, Al Gore, Woody Harrelson, Howard Zinn and Ram Dass, She is a co-author of the 2004 book How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office.
A graduate of Harvard College, Aya studied theater with Whoopi Goldberg, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, and the Jean Shelton School. She also studied fiction in the MFA program at Bennington College. She is currently working on her first novel and a collection of essays about self-love. She released her first spoken word CD Aya de Leon: Live at La Pena in 2003 and her second CD Joy in the Struggle in 2005. Aya is the director of June Jordan's Poetry for the People and is currently teaching at UC Berkeley.
Performers for April 13 and 14
Bettie Mae Fikes
Bettie Mae Fikes was born in Selma, Alabama, and began singing gospel alongside her mother at age 4. Bettie is a descendant from a long line of country gospel singers and preachers. At the age of 16 she became s student leader for the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the Civil Rights Movement, emerging as a music leader. She was jailed for several weeks in 1963 for protesting during the voting rights struggle in Selma. Bettie began singing with the SNCC Freedom Singers. Her passion and commitment garnered the Long Walk to Freedom Award as well as a letter from California Governor Gray Davis acknowledging her roll in the Civil Rights movement.
Bettie has graced the stages of Carnegie Hall, Newport Jazz Festival, the Library of Congress, and numerous Blues Festivals, as well as performing for the ’64 Democratic National Convention and the ’04 Democratic National Convention (where she was introduced by Maya Angelou). She has performed with Joe Turner, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Albert King, James Brown, Bob Dillon, and Mavis Staples among others. Bettie is also a dynamic lecturer, having delivered moving speeches about diversity and civil rights at universities throughout the United States and Canada. Her current CD, entitled Blues Holiday, was produced by Benjamin Wright.
Bettie Mae Fikes is a powerful, beautiful woman. She holds Blues audiences in the palm of her well-manicured hand when she takes to the stage and begins to tell each person in that rapt crowd a story. Yes, she’s a storyteller. A musical genius of a storyteller. She’ll weave you into her story with her impromptu lyrics; caress you with that throaty, rich, velvety voice…until you believe you are the only one in the room. Small is stature, she seems ten feet tall when she’s in the spotlight gazing down at you. Her voice can vibrate a room until the walls beg for mercy. Bettie says: “I travel around the country trying to deliver the message that my grandmother passed to me,” “I am too strong to be broken down … All I can say is we know where we’ve been but we don’t know where we’re going.”
Bettie Mae Fikes is a bright light in this world. She is a beacon of hope, a beloved daughter of Jesus, an adoring mother, a miracle of love to her friends, and a loving mistress to her music. To be in her presence is an honor. To listen to her sing is an unforgettable journey of joy.
Monica Dillon is a New Orleans native singer, pianist, composer, and producer. Her smooth sultry sounds captivate audiences around the globe. Monica’s CD All I Have is a Moment received worldwide attention in the USA, Germany, London, Japan, Spain, Greece, France and Croatia. Often compared to the soulful political influence of Nina Simone, the sultry balladry of Cassandra Wilson, the songwriting poise of Brenda Russell & Patrice Rushen, and the chops of Joe Sample, Monica’s sound blends jazz, blues, funk, and folk.
As a Hurricane Katrina survivor, she lost everything. With an undaunted spirit and artistic drive, Monica continues to woo audiences around the world. In 2006, she completed a German tour with a sold out concert in Potsdam as an invited guest at the Nikolaisaal "The Voice" Concert Series. Additionally, she toured the East Coast of the United States with performances in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and New York. In the fall of 2006, Monica opened for legendary blues/folk singer Odetta as part of the Hilltown Folk Concert Series in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.
Currently Monica is composing the score for the post Hurricane Katrina documentary, "Belly of the Basin," led by the production company in Philadelphia called Sisters ’ Eye On Media, co-founded and operated by award-winning filmmakers and scholars Professors Roxanna Walker-Canton and Tina Morton.
Monica is working to complete her next CD release, entitled A Beautiful Life, which follows her debut release of All I Have Is A Moment. An outstanding CD, All I Have Is A Moment continues to receive great reviews from a wide range audiences and fans alike which continues internationally.
A graduate of Vanderbilt University, with a degree in Electrical Engineering, Monica merges various genres of music in her repertoire including jazz, gospel, R & B, and adult contemporary. Among her list of accomplishments include the pleasure and privilege of opening for vocalist Lalah Hathaway, legendary blues singer Odetta, as well as legendary local New Orleans artists such as Irma Thomas, Betty Shirley, Sharon Martin, violinist Michael Ward, and performing with Paul Batiste of the room shaking Batiste Brothers & original member of War percussionist Harold Brown.
D’Lo is one of the most prophetic and intelligent voices of her generation as a "jolt of comedic and creative" energy. D’Lo’s artistic powers are razor sharp, urbane, and cut across race, class and gender. She is a new breed artist who came of age during the Post-Civil Rights era where the ground was fertile for creating art that emerged from one’s roots as well as engagement with other domestic and global communities.
Rooted in the Hindu traditions of her ancestral Sri Lankan home, she combines and draws parallels between Bharatha Natyam (South Indian Dance) and Hip Hop. Her groundbreaking exercises in collaborative art communicate a global message of enlightened hope throughout the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. In all of these communities, D’Lo raises us up to new levels of consciousness, hope and meaning by tackling many pressing issues such as brutality, justice, AIDS, sexuality, political and social barriers that divide us. From performances to seminars to workshops, D’Lo makes it a point to live by her belief that "art is the most effective medium to get a message across to masses of people."
D’Lo began developing her talents as a student of the piano at the tender age of three. Since then she has gone on to develop an impressive arsenal of instruments. Using Hip Hop as a life affirming guide she navigates multiple art forms and public spaces. She writes, sings, dances, and actively works to make the world better for herself and others. She continues to serve as an organizer in both artist and activist circles and co-founded an arts and performance organization (LCampAddix) to help others get their words and messages out to the world.
D’Lo holds a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in Ethnomusicology and is a graduate of New York’s School of Audio Engineering (SAE). Additionally, she has studied at England’s Oxford University and the American College in London. D’Lo dedicates her time to teaching youth in the Los Angeles Unified School District and sharing her work at various colleges and universities including Yale University, Wellesley College, Bryn Mawr College and Brown University.
Film Screening of NO! - April 15
Aishah Shahidah Simmons
NO! unveils the reality of rape, other forms of sexual violence, and healing in African-American communities. Winner of both a juried award and an audience choice award at the 2006 San Diego Women film Festival, this ground-breaking feature length documentary explores the unfortunate international reality of rape and other forms of sexual assault through first-person testimonies, scholarship and activism of African-Americans.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the producer, writer, and director of the feature length documentary NO!. She is an award-winning African-American feminist lesbian independent documentary filmmaker, television and radio producer, published writer, international lecturer, and activist based in Philadelphia, PA. In 1992, Aishah Shahidah Simmons founded AfroLez® Productions, an AfroLez®femcentric multimedia arts company committed to using the moving image, the written and spoken word to address those issues which have a negative impact on marginalized and disenfranchised people. Coined in 1990 by Ms. Simmons, AfroLez®femcentric defines the culturally conscious role of Black women who identify as Afrocentric, lesbian, and feminist.
For three years she co-produced two monthly public television programs for a PBS affiliate in Philadelphia. Her internationally acclaimed short videos “Silence… Broken” and “In My Father's House,” explore the issues of race, gender, homophobia, rape, and misogyny. Ms. Simmons has written essays for The Philadelphia Tribune, The Philadelphia Gay News, Women In the Life, Sojourner: The Women's Forum, Doula: The Journal of Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture, and Warriors/Guerrieres. She is the author of "Creating A Sacred Space of Our Own" in Just Sex: Students Rewrite the Rules on Sex, Violence, Equality & Activism (Jodi Gold & Susan Villari, Eds. Rowman & Littlefield,© 2000).
Aishah is the recipient of numerous grants and awards including an award from the International Federation of Black Prides; the D.C. Rape Crisis Center's Visionary Award; a major grant from the Ford Foundation to support the international educational marketing and distribution of NO! ; the 2006 National Award for Outstanding Response to and Prevention of Sexual Violence from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center; Leeway Foundation's 2005 Transformation Award; an Artist-in-Residency at Spelman College's Digital Moving Image Salon; and several production/post production grants from the Valentine Foundation, the Bread and Roses Community Fund, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, and the Gloria Steinem Fund of the Ms. Foundation for Women, to name a few.