This George Mason University Alumnus Has Dedicated Her Life to Bringing Peace to Middle East

By Mariam Aburdeineh, George Mason University

Fakhira Halloun holds two contradictory identities: She is Palestinian and an Israeli citizen.

It wasn’t until she began facilitating peace dialogues between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem in 2000 that she realized Palestinian citizens of Israel could be the missing link in bridging ties between the two groups.

Related: Nonprofit founded by George Mason University graduates inspires and mentors teen girls to become leaders

“Palestinian citizens of Israel have an important role to play in solving the conflict,” said Halloun, a 2019 Ph.D. graduate of the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution at Sullivan Foundation partner school George Mason University. “We know the mindset of the Palestinians in the West Bank and share the same national identity and culture. At the same time, we know the Jews in Israel because we live with them and a lot of relationships are built there.”

That realization inspired her studies at Mason and her life goal of bringing about peace, she said.

After graduating from Mason, Halloun returned to Jerusalem, where she works as a civil society and peacebuilding consultant at the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

“This was my dream work,” Halloun said. “I’m helping civil society organizations engaged in peacebuilding work on both sides to reexamine and redefine their work in order to make a difference.”

Though she is overseas, Halloun’s impact in the Washington, D.C., area remains. Halloun was part of a team that established the D.C.-based Museum of the Palestinian People, which highlights the history, identity, culture and achievements of Palestinians.

“Usually the story about the Palestinian people is very narrow, and it’s linked with the conflict,” Halloun said. “We wanted to expand their narrative and bring out the complexity of it so that Americans and others can see themselves through the stories of the Palestinian people.”

This photo shows Fakhira Halloun on a stroll in Israel, where she works as a peacemaker

After graduating from Mason, Fakhira Halloun returned to Jerusalem, where she works as a civil society and peacebuilding consultant for the UN’s Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process.

Halloun has also stayed connected to Mason. Since 2019, she has been co-teaching a study-abroad course with professor Marc Gopin that takes students to Israel and Palestinian territories to understand the conflict from both sides.

It’s an enlightening course, Halloun said, and one she also took as a student.

Related: Ole Miss freshman advocates for minority students everywhere she goes

“Fakhira is an extraordinary peacemaker who understands intellectually and personally the power of compassion and the heart to heal wounds of war and conflict,” Gopin said. “She combines that with reasoning and strategy to build bridges across lines of adversaries.”

“I brought my passion, commitment and persistence to impact my reality, but professors like Dr. [Kevin] Avruch and Dr. Gopin equipped me with a deep lens in conflict resolution through their knowledge, analysis and approaches to understand,” Halloun said. “I couldn’t be successful now where I work in the UN without their contribution to who I am.”

Creating a better future is Halloun’s top goal, she said. According to her professors, she has what it takes. “If peace with justice is ever to have a chance, it will be people like Fakhira—on all sides—who will commit to seeing it through and bring it about,” Avruch said.

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the George Mason University website.

Methodist University Graduate Tomomi Shiotani Embarks on Journey of Compassion and Service

By Gabrielle Isaac Allison, Methodist University

Growing up in Japan, Tomomi Shiotani, a recent graduate of Sullivan Foundation partner school Methodist University, practiced Shintoism and Buddhism, two of the region’s most popular faiths.

Buddhism is known for its famed proverbs, short sayings that shine light on a truth or piece of advice followers should live by. Though Shiotani was surrounded by these proverbs, she recently learned one Christian proverb which would encompass her life experiences: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Related: Ole Miss freshman advocates for minority students everywhere she goes

It all started with an internship that combined Shiotani’s love for political science and public service with the United Methodist Church (UMC). “I was looking for an internship around December 2018,” she said. “I started making connections on campus. Rev. Kelli Taylor and I casually talked about the things I was passionate about, which is helping people in the public sector.”

Rev. Taylor, MU chaplain and vice president for community engagement, thought the General Board of Church and Society internship program through the UMC would be a perfect fit.

Tomomi Shiotani with her mentor, Reverend Kelli Taylor

“Tomomi arrived at my office late one afternoon,” Taylor said. “While she had applied for a few internships and had been accepted to all but one, Tomomi had a sense something was missing. She was anxious and feeling the pressure of the looming deadline and her decision. I asked her to take a deep breath and tell me a little about herself and the vision for her life. It was immediately apparent Tomomi wanted to use her academic knowledge for compassion in the world and for social justice.”

So, two days before the deadline, Rev. Taylor and Shiotani worked together to complete the application. A few months later, Shiotani was one of eight students selected as an Ethnic Young Adult Intern. Shiotani felt a range of emotions when she learned she was accepted.

“I was nervous but excited,” she said. “I was stepping into the UMC community for the first time, so I was nervous if I could present myself well since the other interns were probably raised in church. The only time I was exposed to Christianity was in a Catholic school when I was growing up.”

“Over the next several months, Tomomi and I spent hours and days talking about faith, the Wesleyan tradition, vocation and calling, in preparation for her GBCS internship,” Taylor added.

Shiotani’s mother enrolled her in a Catholic school in Japan when she was seven years old. At the school, Shiotani learned not only a basic education, but how to live a Bible-based life. “I stayed in that school for 12 years before coming to the United States. It was a foundation of Christian education that I never paid attention to,” she admitted. “I started connecting the past and present and saw how God was guiding my paths even then.”

But God’s guiding hand didn’t stop there. As it turns out, Shiotani was able to make an impact on social and political policies she was passionate about.

Related: Professor and student at Washington and Lee University co-direct domestic violence documentary

During her internship, Shiotani worked Monday through Thursday as a policy intern for Church World Service. She drafted letters, lobbied, organized press conferences, and attended rallies and marches.

On Fridays, she and her fellow interns attended workshops on various topics such as the LGBTQ+ community and elder rights. On Sundays, each intern would travel to different churches in the Maryland and D.C. areas to learn about church culture.

The intentional destruction of water bottles left for immigrants on the U.S. southern border led Shiotani to identify with refugees on an emotional level.

Shiotani spent much of her time focused on human rights issues at an executive level. She vividly remembers researching the treatment of immigrants at the U.S. Southern border, a hot-button issue that has been in the headlines for years. She realized God had a plan for her life when she remembered a trip while studying at the United World College (UWC), before her MU Journey.

“When I was in school at UWC, I visited the U.S. Southern border and heard stories from immigrants and officers,” she said. “I walked the same path as the immigrants did. While I was walking the path, I saw water jugs with messages written on them in Spanish. I saw on the news recently these same bottles are being broken by border patrol officers because they don’t want the immigrants to survive.”

“I wouldn’t call myself an immigrant or refugee who has gone through hardships to be here,” she continued, “but I am on a visa here. I’m not integrated fully into the American society, so I can relate to immigrants in that way.”

Rev. Taylor baptized Tomomi Shiotani in a special chapel service during the fall of 2019.

After she completed her two-month internship, Shiotani returned to MU and began communicating more with God. In the fall of 2019, she was baptized during a special chapel service. “Rev. Taylor and I sat down and planned how the whole service would go. It was so nice of her to let me plan what the service would look like. I got really emotional during my baptismal service,” she said. “I felt welcomed after seeing the faces of faculty, staff, and students who came to support me during the service.”

Shiotani was surprised to see her name written in Japanese on the front of the program.

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For Taylor, baptismal services have been a special mark in her career as a chaplain. “Throughout my life, God has given me the grace and privilege to be in that moment when many people said ‘yes’ to baptism and a life of faith,” Taylor said. “Since coming to Methodist, I have baptized four other students and one staff member’s child. The privilege and joy of being a part of someone’s life at such a critical moment, and a joyous one, never fades. Being present at those critical moments is at the core of my calling as Chaplain.”

After graduating in May, Shiotani has chosen to stay in the U.S. and attend seminary.

Shiotani’s experience is one that MU’s Department of Religious Life hopes will extend to all of the university’s students.

“We often use the term MU Journey, and there is a specificity to one’s journey at Methodist University,” said Taylor. “But the university, and Religious Life at the University, are just segments of a larger journey of life, like threads in a tapestry. God weaves these threads together for good for those who seek God. The mission of Religious Life at Methodist University is to give students an opportunity to discover those threads, see how they work together for good, and to see everything in their lives as part of that spiritual tapestry.”

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the Methodist University website.

Ole Miss Freshman Advocates for Minority Students Everywhere She Goes

Although Tatiana Davis already had a proven record of success before coming to the University of Mississippi, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College freshman is out to become an even better version of herself.

“My biggest goal is to have an impact on others and leave this campus having made a lasting impression,” said the Brandon, Miss. native, a biology major with a minor in chemistry. “I was always taught that if you have a chance, leave every place you touch or encounter better than you found it.”

Davis, the daughter of Renae and Anthony Williams, did exactly that at Brandon High School, where she created the school’s first Black Student Union—later renamed Multicultural Ambassadors—in an attempt to increase diversity and create a welcome environment for minority students. “I wanted to create a club that increases the awareness and appreciation for minority students but also gave them a voice,” she said. “After hard work and dedication, our club grew to more than 150 members.”

Related: University of Mississippi honors five changemakers with Algernon Sydney Sullivan Awards.

Under Davis’ leadership, the Multicultural Ambassadors introduced interactive events such as “No Phone, New Friends Fridays,” which encourages students to put away their smartphones and have conversations in the lunchroom with peers they don’t know. Multicultural Ambassadors also emphasized Black History Month, led orientation/pep rallies for upcoming students, provided college campus visits to historically black colleges and universities, brought speakers to the school and created the first homecoming dance following the school’s basketball games.

“Everything we accomplished gives a sense of the impact the club made,” she said. “The academic accommodations and the production of events to bridge diverse backgrounds led other teachers to reach out and ask about how to start a similar club at their own schools.”

For all her achievements, Davis, who was also Brandon High School’s first African-American salutatorian, wasn’t always confident that she could accomplish the things she set out to do. “Typically, I tend to doubt my abilities and lack confidence in myself,” she said. “Although I still struggle with this, I overcame this by stepping outside my comfort zone and applying and running for things I typically would not have.”

“Having support and encouragement from others has helped me realize the true value of myself,” Davis added.

Davis cited Stephanie Murphy, her former basketball coach, and Marcus Stewart, her principal at BHS, as two people who inspired her in high school. “They taught me how to overcome adversity as an African-American in our society,” she said. “They saw something in me that others didn’t and continued to challenge and encourage me throughout my high school career. Their love and dedication play a big part in the reason I am where I am today.”

As a freshman at Ole Miss, Davis plans to get more involved in clubs and the Honors College. She also wants to obtain internships and research positions and attend medical school after graduation.

Davis seems poised for greatness on campus and beyond, said Douglass Sullivan-Gonzalez, dean of the Honors College. “Tatiana demonstrates her commitment to excellence through her ability to soar academically while balancing extracurriculars,” he said. “She is already immersed in the citizen-scholar life and was recently elected as an Honors College ambassador.”

Davis was one of 267 students across the country to earn a prestigious Stamps Scholarship to attend Ole Miss. She said it was a boost to both her finances and her confidence level. “Last year around this time, I wasn’t sure how I was going to pay for school,” she said. “My hard work and dedication led me to this great opportunity that I am so thankful for.”

Reflecting on her time at Brandon High School, Davis said she is most proud of using her positions to advocate for the young minority students behind her. “As a result of my multiple positions in the school, I often got to meet with administrators to discuss things such as including African-American studies classes [in] the curriculum or providing the teachers with diversity training,” Davis said.

“Doing these things was important to me because the voices of minority students needed to be heard. I think I did just that.”

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of Mississippi website.

University of South Carolina Law Students Helped Breonna Taylor’s Family Secure $12 Million Settlement

A pair of law students from Sullivan Foundation partner school University of South Carolina provided important pro bono assistance in a wrongful death lawsuit that resulted in a $12 million settlement to the family of Breonna Taylor.

The students, Jasmine Caruthers and Anna Catherine Parham, said their research on no-knock warrants for the lawyers representing Taylor’s family was enlightening and emotional.

Related: Past Sullivan Award winner Josh Nadzam raises funds for NAACP in 26-mile marathon

“I had mixed emotions when I heard about the settlement,” said Caruthers, a second-year law student from Greenville, S.C. “Part of me felt very happy that the Taylor family would be compensated for this tragedy, but another part felt sad. I think, when the cameras are off and the world keeps moving, the Taylor family will still be missing their girl. You can’t place a price tag on someone’s life, and I’m sure they’d rather have her.”

Jasmine Caruthers

The city of Louisville, Kentucky, agreed Sept. 15 to pay $12 million to Taylor’s family and institute sweeping police reforms in the historic settlement. The settlement came more than six months after Louisville Metro Police officers broke down the door to Taylor’s apartment and fatally shot the 26-year-old EMT while executing a late-night, no-knock warrant in a narcotics investigation. The shooting led to months of protests in Louisville and across the country.

The case continues to generate controversy and protests after Brett Hankison, the police officer who shot Taylor, was charged with three counts of wanton endangerment. None of the officers involved in the March 13 raid were charged for the killing of Taylor.

Caruthers and Parham are graduate research assistants for law school professor Colin Miller. Both received their undergraduate degrees at South Carolina—Caruthers in business management and marketing and Parham in criminology and criminal justice. The three collaborated with the Taylor family’s legal team on research into how no-knock warrants disproportionately impact people of color and cause harm to civilians and police officers. They also reviewed case law from around the country concerning shootings connected to no-knock warrants and whether they led to jury verdicts in favor of victims’ families.

“We learned no-knock warrants are often abused, and often the police do not even find what they had been looking for—usually drugs or weapons detailed in the warrant,” said Parham, a third-year law student from Greer, South Carolina. “No-knock warrants disproportionately endanger marginalized communities and unfairly put black and brown lives in peril. “

Related: Guilford College art professor’s paintings capture plight of systemic racism

Ann Catherine Parham

The UofSC team became involved in the case in mid-May after Miller reached out to the Taylors’ legal team to offer pro bono assistance. Their work spanned a couple of months.

“Professor Miller and his students committed an extraordinary amount of time, research and dedication toward getting justice for Breonna Taylor’s family on their civil case,” said Sam Aguiar, co-counsel for the Estate of Breonna Taylor. “We could not be more thankful for their incredible research. These students were so talented, and their work was relied upon heavily in seeking civil justice.”

Miller said the experience provided Caruthers and Parham an opportunity to learn the importance of legal research in representing their clients and proving claims.

“My students and I are always working on a handful of cases at any given time. Many of these are wrongful conviction cases,” Miller said. “For instance, we provided assistance in the case of Ronnie Long, who was recently exonerated after 44 years of wrongful conviction, and Jonathan Irons, who was recently exonerated after 23 years of wrongful conviction.”

After completing their work on the Taylor case, the UofSC research team came away with the belief that police reform, a ban on no-knock warrants, better oversight and more accessible information are needed. Since Taylor’s death, the Louisville City Council passed “Breonna’s Law,” which bans no-knock search warrants. There is also legislation in Congress and many states, including Kentucky and Virginia, that would ban no-knock warrants.

Caruthers and Parham were hoping the officers involved would be held criminally responsible. On Sept. 23, a Kentucky grand jury indicted Hankison (who was fired in June) on three counts of wanton endangerment. The other two officers involved were not charged.

“Civil actions are important in bringing about some closure to the family—although no amount of money can replace the love of a family member—but the officers who killed Breonna Taylor need to be held criminally responsible,” Parham said.

Colin Miller

For the students, the opportunity to work on the Taylor family’s civil suit was rewarding, but it also increased their awareness of institutional racism and the injustices, prejudices and flaws that exist within the justice system. Both said they will carry the experience into their future careers and apply it as members of the law community to advocate for anti-racism and police reform.

“As a black woman, I kept thinking about how this could have been me, been one of my sisters, been my mom,” Caruthers said. “I didn’t want Breonna to just be another name. So often black lives are swept under the rug when subjected to police violence. People who look like me are killed, in senseless ways, and their killers are often allowed to avoid responsibility. I didn’t want Breonna’s family to be robbed of the justice they so deserved. I will forever remember her name.”

This article has been edited from the original version appearing on the University of South Carolina website.

Professor and Student at Washington and Lee Co-Direct Domestic Violence Documentary

By Lindsey Nair, Washington and Lee University

When Nolan Zunk first approached Professor Stephanie Sandberg near the end of his freshman year at Sullivan Foundation partner school Washington and Lee University, he was hoping for a summer opportunity that would provide him with a little filmmaking experience.

He got that—and a whole lot more.

A year-and-a-half later, Zunk and Sandberg are co-directors putting the finishing touches on a domestic violence documentary, “Intimate Violence,” that will be screened at Hull’s Drive-in on Oct. 25 in Lexington, Va., to raise money for Lexington’s nonprofit Project Horizon. Along the way, Zunk gained invaluable hands-on experience, collaborated closely with a faculty member on a professional project and received a job offer from Project Horizon only halfway through his college career.

“I’ve learned so much about documentary filmmaking, feminist care ethics and how to ethically interact with survivors of trauma, so it’s been an incredibly fruitful process,” Zunk said. “I’ve made many connections that I will use my whole life.”

Sandberg, an assistant professor in the Department of Theater, Dance, and Film Studies at W&L, is no stranger to producing work about heavy topics. She has written plays about racism, faith, sexuality, human trafficking and the plight of refugees. When she was ready for a new project, she wanted to partner with a local organization.

Related: Sullivan Award winner shares untold stories of African-Americans at Washington and Lee University

“I was looking for something to do that would be significant to the community but could be of national interest as well,” she said.

She approached Judy Casteele, executive director of Project Horizon, to discuss the idea. Founded in 1982, Project Horizon provides 24-hour crisis response to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The nonprofit operates a 24-hour crisis hotline, a 16-bed shelter and a number of programs that include legal advocacy and counseling, all free of charge to clients. The organization also offers community violence prevention education to students in pre-K through college as well as to civic groups.

Sandberg and Zunk recruited other Washington and Lee University students to help research and shoot “Intimate Violence.”

Casteele said she had no reservations about Sandberg’s proposal. “We are interested in anything we can do to help increase understanding of the issues,” she said, “and to get out the message that anyone can be a part of the solution.”

From the beginning, Sandberg wanted to involve students. She and Professor Shawn Paul Evans, who also teaches in the Theater, Dance and Film Department, worked with first-year students in the summer 2019 Advanced Immersion and Mentoring (AIM) program to do research and conduct test interviews. One of those students, Lauren Hayes, remained involved for the long haul. Over the summer, she worked remotely with Sandberg to write a related play featuring domestic violence survivor stories.

“It was really cool,” Hayes said of the AIM experience, “especially for an incoming first-year student who is already nervous about being in a whole new environment. It gave me an opportunity to know my advisor way before anyone else, and it helped me make a lot of connections I would not have known about.”

Zunk and fellow student Logan Brand also joined the project early on as summer research students. Brand graduated in May 2020, but Zunk stayed involved. Prior joining the project, Zunk had only made two eight-minute documentaries, one about 9/11 and one about the plight of honeybees.

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With help from Project Horizon, Sandberg and Zunk identified four survivors of domestic violence—three female, one male—to interview. Using Lenfest grant money, they also traveled around the country to interview national experts, including Jacqueline Campbell at Johns Hopkins University, who created the Danger Risk Assessment tool used to calculate victims’ risk of being killed by their abuser. Also featured in the film are a trauma-sensitive judge, a director of counseling services, and experts in gun violence and violent male culture. Many others were interviewed on background, including a Rockbridge County police special investigator who works on domestic violence cases.

The end result is a 102-minute documentary that weaves together survivor stories with expert interviews to take a close look at the current state of domestic violence in America. The documentary covers not only traditional domestic situations, but also violence between same-sex couples and family violence.

“One of the huge issues is the silence that surrounds this topic,” Sandberg said. “It’s happening everywhere, and it crosses race lines, class lines and geographic lines. Every single part of human life is touched by this issue, and we haven’t really found adequate ways to address the violence.”

Stephanie Sandberg

The survivors interviewed for the film were willing to be on record in part because they are no longer in abusive relationships. Sandberg and Zunk worked closely with Project Horizon, counselors and the judicial system to ensure that they didn’t put anyone at risk. Everyone involved in the project went through volunteer training at Project Horizon and studied feminist care ethics to ensure that they approached survivors with care and limited the risk of re-traumatizing them during the interview process.

In the course of working on the film, both Sandberg and Zunk learned a great deal about the realities of domestic violence. For example, they learned that when victims of domestic violence are killed by their abusers, it most often happens when they’re trying to leave, which is one reason it can be so difficult to disentangle oneself from a dangerous situation.

“Another thing is that society so often labels intimate violence and domestic violence as women’s issues,” Zunk said, “and certainly these issues do affect women disproportionately. But by calling it a women’s issue, in some ways that is a form of victim-blaming, rather than calling it a men’s issue, since men most often are the ones perpetrating these acts of violence.”

As the premiere date draws nearer, the film is being scored by a Chicago graduate student composer that Zunk and Sandberg met through the Virginia Film Festival’s Adrenaline Film Project. Zunk is in the process of creating animations for the documentary, work that has counted toward an independent study course in animation. He also completed an independent study in film editing, and some of the work became part of his Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking course. Other students in that class did projects related to domestic violence that will be used on the film’s website.

“Overall, more than 20 students were involved in this project,” Sandberg said. “It’s so great because it was totally hands-on, they learned so much, and their names are on the film.”

Casteele said she has been impressed by the professionalism of the students. “I have watched them interview other professionals, and they have been well-prepared and inquisitive, really wanting to understand the issue, not just put something out there that is sensational or fluff,” she said. “We were so impressed with Nolan that we hired him.” Zunk now works part-time as a community outreach specialist for Project Horizon, and he answers calls on the hotline on weekends.

Most of Project Horizon’s funding comes from state and federal grants, but the organization has to raise $200,000-$300,000 each year through fundraisers and donations. In a normal year, some of those funds would come from Deck the Halls, an annual black-tie gala held in Marshall Hall at VMI. Because of COVID-19, the organization won’t be able to host the gala this year.

Instead, Sandberg came up with the idea to screen the documentary at Hull’s Drive-in theater. It will be screened on Oct. 25 at 6:30 p.m. Gates open at 5 p.m. Tickets, which are $100 per car, can be purchased on the Hull’s Drive-in website. Sponsorship opportunities of $500 to $5,000 are also available. Interested parties should contact Project Horizon at 540-463-7861.

“Violence in the home is not something that Project Horizon is going to solve alone,” Casteele said. “It’s going to take addressing what the community culture is like and what is accepted. It’s going to take good people standing up and saying ‘This is wrong. There is a part for me in changing this trend of violence in the home and in the community.’”

This article has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Washington and Lee University website.

Chicago Restaurateurs Celebrate Women’s Restaurant Week August 26-31

Female chefs and restaurateurs in the Chicago area have banded together for Women’s Restaurant Week to encourage consumers to support women-owned restaurants. Presented by Let’s Talk and supported by the Illinois Restaurant Association, Choose Chicago and the James Beard Foundation (JBF), the six-day event will kick off on Women’s Equality Day, Wednesday, August 26, and runs through August 31.

Some of the participating restaurateurs and restaurants include Sarah Stegner, Prairie Grass Cafe; Beverly Kim, Parachute and Wherewithall; Carrie Nahabedian, Brindille; Danielle Dang, HaiSous;  Amy and Clodaugh Lawless, The Dearborn; Sandra Holl, Floriole; and Rohini Dey, Vermilion (a JBF trustee and Let’s Talk founder).

Related: Why we need to nurture entrepreneurship in young girls

This photo shows Sarah Stegner, owner of Prairie Grass Cafe and a founder of Women's Restaurant Week

Sarah Stegner, Prairie Grass Cafe

“The idea came out of a Let’s Talk group Zoom call with women chefs involved in the James Beard Foundation,” said Stegner, a two-time James Beard Award winner. “It was smart to band together to face the COVID19 challenges, learn from each other and encourage customers to support our women-owned restaurants,” she said.

Women’s Restaurant Week is led by the Chicago JBF “Let’s Talk” Forum to which seventeen Chicago-area women restaurateurs belong. Their purpose is to support each other and survive the coronavirus crisis together.

Women’s Restaurant Week is open to all women-owned restaurants, bakers and food-related and beverage businesses. Each business will offer a special dine-in meal, product for sale, delivery, or pick-up offer to showcase their business to Chicagoland.

Related: Rise & Thrive inspires and mentors teen girls to become leaders

Learn more about Windy City participants in Women’s Restaurant Week at their websites below:

Rise and Thrive: Inspiring and Mentoring Teen Girls to Become Leaders

Ashley Lucas and Ashley Koranteng met when they were both undergraduates at Sullivan Foundation partner school George Mason University. Their friendship blossomed, especially when they realized they had similar goals: They wanted to find ways to inspire and help teen girls navigate growing up.

Together, they created a program called Rise and Thrive, which officially launched in September 2019. The program is aimed at cultivating a community of “young ladies that will grow into women who are confident, intelligent, and leaders in all aspects of life through mentorship, education and experience,” according to the Rise and Thrive website.

Related: De’Angelo Wynn, Shenandoah University SGA president and combat veteran, joins social-justice protests in Virginia

“Sometimes young girls don’t have someone in their lives who is closer in age than their parents to inspire them. Our program is intended to encourage young girls to chase their dreams and help give them the tools to do so,” said Koranteng, who was a member of the Honors College while an undergraduate at Mason and graduated with a BS in community health. She is currently pursuing a master’s in public health in epidemiology at Mason.

Over the past year, Koranteng and Lucas have been working with local schools to implement their programming. The original (pre-pandemic) concept was for Koranteng and Lucas to meet in person with teen girls once a week, either during or after school for a safe space to talk. In these meetings, Koranteng and Lucas would guide participants in discussions about such topics as healthy lifestyles and appropriate use of social media. In addition, the program is intended to help participants with etiquette, professional development, academic enrichment and responsible finances.

Ashley Lucas and Ashley Koranteng

“We wanted to help girls in the areas that they aren’t necessarily taught in school, but [which] are important for their growth,” said Lucas, who was on the women’s track and field team while at Mason and graduated with a degree in biology. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in nutrition and integrative health at the Maryland University of Integrative Health.

Some of their plans include practical instruction. For example, Koranteng and Lucas want to teach girls the etiquette for formatting emails to professors and potential employers. “It seems small, but girls aren’t necessarily taught this. And it can make a big impact on how they are perceived,” said Koranteng,

Most important, however, they wanted teen girls to have a place to talk, where every voice was heard, no matter their background, Koranteng said.

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Koranteng and Lucas have had to change their plans to offer their program virtually instead of in-person. They are working on a pricing model for implementing the conversations online. While virtual meetups would look different than in-person, they also allow the program to potentially reach teen girls across the country.

“With more girls attending school virtually, they have Chromebooks and hot spots, so they could participate and may be in even greater need of mentorship,” Lucas said.

This summer, they hosted a six-week session, with about 80 participants meeting online once a week, from all parts of the United States and Canada.

Jacquelyn Somuah’s 15-year-old daughter has been participating in the summer program. “It’s been good. It’s kept her happy and busy,” Somuah said. “They play games and talk about things. I’m glad she has a group of girls to talk to.”

Somuah, who lives in Dumfries, Virginia, added that having young women leading the program is helpful. “She is more likely to listen to them when they give advice because they are like big sisters,” Somuah said.

Koranteng agreed that the summer program has been successful. “We hope to reach more teen girls in the fall,” she said.

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the George Mason University website.

Shenandoah SGA President: “We Really Have the Power to Make Change”

When De’Angelo Wynn, an MBA student and president of the Student Government Association at Sullivan Foundation partner school Shenandoah University, joined with fellow students and community members for a protest against police brutality and racial injustice in downtown Winchester, Va., last May, he quickly realized he was “where I was supposed to be.”

The march was inspired by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, a seminal event that touched off a massive protest movement nationwide. On that day in Winchester, the protestors carried signs and chanted “No justice, no peace,” and “Say his name: George Floyd.” Their march took a path that eventually led to a roundabout outside the Timbrook Public Safety Center, which houses the City of Winchester’s police force. Toward the end of the event, a police officer clasped hands with two of the protesters.

Related: Guilford College art professor’s paintings capture plight of systemic racism

Prior to the march, Wynn, a military veteran who served in Afghanistan, spontaneously addressed the crowd of protesters. Afterwards, he came to realize that social change is possible, even when it comes to racial justice—an issue that has plagued the United States since its founding.

“While participating, I felt like I was where I was supposed to be,” Wynn said later. “The energy and emotion were palpable. The love and unity were amazing, and for once I felt like, ‘Damn, we really have the power to make change.’”

Wynn, who grew up in Georgia in “a huge brown family,” said he and his family members have always experienced racism—judicial, educational, and within society at large.

“Seeing the unfair treatment that members of my family had to deal with made me angry and frustrated even many years later,” he recalled. “So when I witnessed the murder of George Floyd, I saw my brother. I saw my uncle. I saw my mother. Therefore, I couldn’t remain silent. I had to come out to the protest to be heard. Enough is enough.”

Prior to enrolling at Shenandoah, Wynn served as a bodyguard for chaplains during combat deployments in Afghanistan and also traveled on “hero flights,” where fallen service members were given last rites. His non-combat deployments took him to South Korea; Okinawa, Japan; the French territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific; The Philippines; and Brunei, a tiny country on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. During his deployments in these countries, he participated in projects like teaching English and building orphanages and a school.

Wynn received a medical discharge due to bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders and an Achilles tendon rupture. At Shenandoah, he became president of the campus organization, Shenandoah Veterans and Supporters, and took time to let his body heal. He eventually became a Crossfit instructor and host of a popular weekly fitness class called “Dance Party With De’Angelo.”

Related: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Josh Nadzam raises funds for NAACP with 26-mile marathon called Run for Black Lives

The coronavirus pandemic was already in full swing at the time of the racial justice protest in Winchester, but Wynn said he didn’t fear for his safety during the event. “However, in the lens of the Covid pandemic, I never forgot the threat of the virus; it’s just [that] racism and social injustice took back their platform as the biggest pandemics in America, and, in that moment, I had to tackle those.”

Wynn said the Winchester protest was necessary—and it made an impact. “I believe that the protest helped to bring awareness to the fact that serious discussion and action are needed to address racism, social injustice and police brutality in America,” he said. “We joined with hundreds within this community and an untold number of people around the world to say enough is enough.”

Once the protests end, he said, those dedicated to dismantling racist policy can’t let up on their work. “We must continue to be agents of change by utilizing our voice and presence,” he said. “However, most importantly, it is my goal to bring awareness to the power of our vote.”

This article was adapted from two stories—here and here—about De’Angelo Wynn on the Shenandoah University website.

Guilford College Art Professor’s Paintings Capture Plight of Systemic Racism

Antoine Williams, an assistant professor of art at Sullivan Foundation partner school Guilford College, recently auctioned his mixed-media work on Instagram in support of racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“All of the figures in the painting are small within this distressed surface, so it’s all of us—Black people within a system of racism. We are in this system of economic and racial oppression. We are still people, and we still navigate it, and we still do the best that we can,” Williams explained.

Related: Past Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Josh Nadzam raises funds for NAACP With Run for Black Lives marathon

The two pieces included in the auction were selected from Williams’ “There Will Be No Miracles Here” series, based on Casey Gerald’s book of the same name. Both the novel and the artwork serve as memoirs of each man’s experience with racial identity and systemic power injustices.


“The series overall is about memory,” Williams said. “It’s about these people that I grew up with that I love, but as a kid you look at them as superheroes. Adults are something else when you are a kid, and then you grow up and you realize they are, like all of us, flawed individuals. Then you get older, and I am taking a look back, realizing these are individuals who were within this system.”

Williams also worked with local North Carolina art institutions that have exhibited his work to donate to the cause. “There is conversation in the art world around white-led art institutions who benefit greatly from Black creative labor but don’t do enough to address anti-blackness and white supremacy,” he said. “Them taking part in the fundraiser was a way of having these institutions engage, past Instagram posts, in a way that affects the lives of actual Black people.”

Related: This Houston organization aims to break the school-to-prison pipeline for disadvantaged youth

At Guilford, Williams takes these lessons beyond his work and into the classroom, where he teaches students the importance of art in social movements. With protests for racial equality taking place across the community, he wants to serve as a reminder that advocacy can take on many forms. “Everyone doesn’t have the ability to be on the front line at a protest. But we all have skills and resources that can benefit the movement that may not be on the frontlines,” he said.

Williams joins many local artists who have been sharing their work on social media and across downtown Greensboro. “Public art can be a double-edged sword in that it can employ artists and spread awareness. But it can also be used as symbolic gestures in place of actual systemic change. It becomes a backdrop without any real action,” he said.

While he doesn’t have expectations for viewers of his work, Williams said he hopes that those who see his pieces and other public Black Lives Matter artwork will also take the time to educate themselves on how to dismantle white supremacy.

This article was edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Guilford College website.

The Run for Black Lives: Josh Nadzam Raises Funds for NAACP in 26-Mile Marathon

Josh Nadzam, a 2012 Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner and graduate of the University of Kentucky, has never been the kind of person who runs away from problems—he runs to solve them. Raised by a single mother in the housing projects of Pittsburgh, Nadzam used his talent and skills as a scholar-athlete to escape grinding poverty, winning a full scholarship with the Wildcats’ track and field team and becoming one of the top milers in the SEC.

More recently he ran to bring awareness to another problem: police brutality and racial inequity. Nadzam, a social entrepreneur and cofounder of On the Move Art Studio in Lexington, Kentucky, ran 26 miles from Lexington to Frankfort, Kentucky, in a fundraiser for the Kentucky NAACP on Friday, June 19. Despite conceiving and organizing the event in less than a week, he ended up raising more than $7,000 from 130 donors. Prior to the marathon, we asked Nadzam to talk about his commitment to social justice, the Black Lives Matter movement and his belief that “an injustice to one is an injustice to all.”

Related: How Josh Nadzam outran poverty and uses art to change kids’ lives

Sullivan Foundation: What inspired you to take this on? How did you get the idea?

Josh Nadzam: Racism, discrimination and the injustices experienced by black Americans are completely unacceptable, and I want to do everything I can to play my role in dismantling the systemic structures that perpetuate these issues. I want to be an ally, fight for social justice, and make our country welcoming and fair for all Americans. I’m always trying to think of various ways I can effect change, so in addition to policy changes, protests, and other forms of activism, I believe each one of us has a set of skills we can use to contribute to the cause. Mine happens to be running. So I thought I could raise awareness for this issue and also raise funds for an organization that is constantly fighting this battle by running from my home city to our capitol in Kentucky.

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Josh Nadzam crosses the finish line in the Wesley Waddle 5K Run in 2017.

Sullivan Foundation: What does the Black Lives Matter movement mean to you personally?

Nadzam: To me, it is an expression that the black community feels like their lives do not matter as much as other lives. It’s a rallying cry to draw attention to deep, systemic issues that have existed for centuries. One of my favorite quotes is, “An injustice to one is an injustice to all.” So, while I’ll never be able to relate to what it is like to be black in America, if anyone hurts in America, then I hurt, too. Their pain is my pain. We’re all in this together, so I won’t rest until we fix this.

Sullivan Foundation: I know you’re a physically fit guy, but 26 miles! Wow! Will this be a breeze for you, or do you see it as a serious challenge?

Nadzam: It’s definitely going to be challenging, but, fortunately, I’ve run a few marathons before which are 26.2 miles, so I at least have an idea of what it’ll feel like. But it’ll still be hard—and very hot that day!

Sullivan Foundation: Do you have other people running with you?

Nadzam: There is at least one other person who is going to run the whole way with me. A few others have expressed interest in running a portion of it with me. I wish we could have a ton of people run, but, unfortunately, there isn’t really a safe route to run from Lexington to Frankfort with a large crowd.

Sullivan Foundation: As more and more young people begin to join this protest movement, what do you think they need to know to serve as effective allies?

Nadzam: I think what we all need to do as effective allies is to listen, be humble, approach these situations without defensiveness, and recognize as white people that we have privileges that allow us to navigate America in a much different and safer way than people of color. Also, this fight is a marathon, not a sprint. While it is “trending” right now, this issue is going to take decades to resolve. We need everyone to get engaged and stay engaged long after this conversation fades away from the national spotlight.

Postscript: Ten people joined Nadzam for part of the 26-mile run with one person, Gavin Galanes, completing it with him. “The sun was unforgiving, and there was no shade the entire way,” Nadzam later posted on Instagram. “I got pretty sick once I was home, but it was all worth it.”