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Activism, Organizing-And Hope


Anger as a Voice For Change


Bianca Pointner was born in Austria. In 2014 she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Multimedia Art and Design from the University of Applied Sciences, Salzburg. She continued her studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Leipzig, Germany until 2017. She was introduced to Nonviolent Communication and Restorative Practices in 2011 and attended a one-year intensive training in 2016 to become a certified Transformational Coach through the US-based Leadership That Works Program. She has been involved as a Coach as well as an Artist in Jail Projects in Germany and India and transitioned into self-employment as a coach serving/empowering individuals around gender inequality, grief and belonging. She joined the Gandhi Institute in October 2018. 


Jonathon Jones grew up in Rochester and learned deeply about nonviolence in many forms while incarcerated, including becoming a trainer with the Alternatives to Violence project as well as learning and then teaching Nonviolent Communication through the Gandhi Institute. Since his return home, he has continued his study of nonviolence, completing a six-month course with the Metta Center for Nonviolence last rear. Jonathon teaches and speaks on nonviolence in a variety of community settings.

Driving Out Hate


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Dr. Taj Smith is Director of Diversity Education at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Before moving to Rochester, he worked at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio as the Director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. Prior to that, Taj was Assistant Director of the Davis Center at Williams College in western Massachusetts, where he coordinated the Intergroup Dialogue Program at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. In 2007, he co-founded Phallacies, a performing arts education and dialogue program that invited young men to think critically about unhealthy masculine attitudes and behaviors. Taj earned his doctorate in Social Justice Education from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, a Masters degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and a Bachelors in Journalism and Mass Media Studies from Rutgers University. 

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Marvin Stepherson is an Adjunct Professor with Roberts Wesleyan College (Accelerated Adult Degree Completion Program). This opportunity allows him to continue educating and serving adult students. His own educational journey began in the late ’80s at Monroe Community College and continued at Roberts Wesleyan, where he completed both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the mid-2000s. 

Marvin’s professional highlights include creating the two-time recognized and award-winning independent film “Too Blue to be Black, Too Black to be Blue”. Marvin is a frequent guest on NPR addressing law enforcement issues from a cultural perspective. He retired as a police sergeant with 25 years of service and as a dual service veteran of 27 years with the United States Marines Corps and the United States Coast Guard Reserve.

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Considered to be a "civil rights movement baby,” Sherry Jackson grew up in an interracial family, spending part of her formative years in the rural south, where she had to quickly learn to discern and navigate racist attitudes and behavior. Today, she works as a marketing and business development director and is co-founder of the newly-formed Rochester Anti-Racism Action Coalition (RARAC), an organization devoted to dismantling systemic racism through education, advocacy, and community organizing. ​


Lindsay Swanson serves as the Lead Founder of the proposed Innova Girls Academy, an all girls STEM-focused middle school. The school is currently in the charter application process with the state and hopes to open in Rochester in the fall of 2021. Lindsay believes that all students should have access to a high-quality STEM education that inspires confidence and leadership. Before moving to Rochester, Lindsay was the Science Department Chair and Computer Science Curriculum Specialist at Democracy Prep Public Schools. Previously, she served as a Science Lead Mentor Teacher with Teach For America and the Operations Director for the Teach For America New York City Regional Institute. Lindsay received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University and holds a Master of Science in Teaching, Adolescence Education from Fordham University.

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Shawna Lusk is a higher education professional with more than 20 years of infusing values of inclusion and equity through work at three distinctly different institutions. Shawna is also the co-founder of the Westside Inclusion Initiative and has been a resident of Chili, NY for 13 years. As a community organizer and recent graduate of the Leadership Rochester program, Shawna is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and fair representation in her community. She serves as the chairperson of the Ministry of Justice and Outreach at Community Christian Church and was recently selected to serve as a member of the Mental Health and Addiction Services working group for the City of Rochester's Commission on Racial and Structural Equality (RASE). Shawna is a proud Wisconsinite, animal lover, and stewards the Barbara and John Lusk Sr. Memorial Little Free Library on White Birch Circle. 


Gwen Clifton is a community activist who is a strong and responsive leader with the heart and vision to create change. She is the co-founder of Westside Inclusion Initiative, a grassroots community organization with a goal of promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in our suburban westside communities. In 2020, as part of the Westside Inclusion Initiative, Gwen was the lead organizer of the Westside To End Racism Rally targeting racial disparities in education, business, voting, and law enforcement. The rally set a precedent for neighboring towns and received an Executive Proclamation “condemning and standing against racism, discrimination, and hatred in the Town of Chili”. 


Gwen has been employed by Finger Lakes Developmental Disabilities Service Office for over 20 years, where she serves as the Rights Advocate for a ten-county region. She is a proud graduate of the Rochester City School District and holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Work from Nazareth College. Gwen has served on the board of the American Association of University Women and on the committee for Women Helping Girls, whose mission is to address equity in education, economic security, and self-determination for disadvantaged women and girls across Monroe County.

When Do I Step In?


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Jodi Oriel is the Associate Director at Monroe Community College for the Office of Student Life and Leadership Development. Jodi is responsible for facilitating the Leadership Program, Visiting Scholars Series, and Scholars’ Day. A humanist at heart, she is the Director, Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Project. Her goal is to always provide the students with various opportunities to be involved in Student Life. Her philosophy is when students are involved it gives them the opportunity to discover and develop to their fullest potential and become active members of their community. Jodi is a proud alumna of Monroe Community College (Liberal Arts), has a Bachelor's of Science from SUNY Brockport and an M.S. in Student Development from Buffalo State College.

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Angelique Stevens is a professor at Monroe Community College, where she teaches Literature of the Holocaust and Perpetrators, Victims, and Bystanders: Literature of Genocide. She has an MA in English from SUNY Brockport and an MFA From Bennington College. Her scholarship is in two distinct areas, human rights, and genocide literature and creative writing. She studied Holocaust education at Yad Vashem in Israel and was a scholar at Keene’s Summer Institute for Genocide Prevention. She has also visited a number of sites globally, including Rwanda’s Genocide Memorial in Kigali and Cambodia’s S-21 Prison and Killing Fields. Angelique has been to refugee camps in South Sudan, where she spent almost three months evaluating the effect of water wells on villages.   

Youth Activism Panel


Sally Brothers, National Board Certified Teacher, has been teaching English at Arcadia High School since 1997. In 2014, Sally worked with a group of students to create the first Black History Month Celebration and then expand the idea into a proposal for a new course designed to create a learning community that focused on building leadership skills, and that made student voice, student choice, current events, community interaction, multicultural literature, and creative options for sharing or demonstrating learning foundational. This course was approved by the district, quickly began as a club as well, and has since grown, spreading throughout the district and the greater Rochester community. The work of Mosaics, as the course and club are called, has been featured in national reports, publications, and conferences, including a U.S. Department of Education report to Congress, as well as through many professional development offerings within the Greece district and throughout the greater Rochester area.

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Mary Callahan is an English teacher at Greece Arcadia High School and a Greece Central School District 9-12 Equity Coach. In this role she facilitates district- and building-level culturally-responsive education and restorative practice training, and works to create more space for all stakeholders to participate in decision-making processes. She also volunteers as a co-chair for Citizen Action of New York – Rochester Chapter Education Committee, which is involved in organizing for local and statewide political action around racial and social justice in public education, especially for the Rochester City School District. Mary is always moved by the power of the voice and perspective of students, and has great appreciation for their civic engagement and activism.

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