Josh Campbell, a workshop facilitator at the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat, might not have super-hearing like Superman, but he has a gift that’s even better for leading meaningful and positive social change: super-listening.
On his website, Campbell, an award-winning playwright, poet, educator, consultant and facilitator from Philadelphia, notes that he has been “documenting my life one play, one poem, one workshop and one story at a time.” He will also be guiding young changemakers and helping change their lives in this spring’s Ignite Retreat, which takes place April 1-3 in Staunton, Va.
Held twice a year, the Ignite Retreat brings together a team of facilitators, coaches and conspirators who lead college students on a journey to discover how they can change the world in a positive way, whether through social entrepreneurship, the nonprofit sector or public policy leadership, among many possibilities. The deadline to register for the Spring 2022 Ignite Retreat is Monday, March 14.
Click here to learn more about the Ignite Retreat and to register.
Campbell has worked with schools and organizations like the Newark School of the Arts in Newark, N.J., the Philadelphia Young Playwrights and the McCarter Theater in Princeton, N.J. As a playwright and poet, his work has been showcased at the Free Library of Philadelphia and at Philly’s Painted Bride Art Center and Simpatico Theatre. Among his numerous honors, he has been a two-time finalist for the Playwrights Center’s Many Voices Fellowship (2016 and 2020), a finalist for the Playwrights Center’s 2016 Jerome Fellowship, and the recipient of the 2018 Curtain Call Award for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education by the New Jersey Theatre Alliance. A graduate of the University of the Arts in Philly, he also received the university’s Excellence in Playwriting Award.
On top of all that, Campbell can jam on the tuba, too. It was his specialty at the Baltimore School for the Arts, one of the top five public performing arts schools in the U.S. and his high-school alma mater.
Campbell has always used the arts as a springboard for important conversations on social change, but he doesn’t believe in doing all the talking himself. “As an artist and storyteller—and changemaker—one of my superpowers is being able to listen deeply beneath the surface,” Campbell said. “What I have found by listening beneath the surface is that I’m passionate about the inequities facing underrepresented students in the education system; mental health for black and brown people; and representation in the arts and culture sector. These issues resonate with me the most because I personally have experienced [them] up close and personal.”
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Leveraging his strong foundation in the arts and culture, Campbell has worked with a wide range of underserved communities, from homeless families and teens to incarcerated youths, new immigrants and English language learners. “Engaging these populations with the arts has brought joy, transformation and agency to populations who struggle with a sense of belonging, feeling invisible, and not having adequate resources to transition into a space of wellness,” Campbell said.
“As an arts administrator, it can feel frustrating to advocate for a necessary project, program, person or story, especially when the people who make the decisions want to tell a singular story, have no context for the work or a framework for producing socially responsible and culturally responsive programming, and/or don’t value the importance of a person, project, or program other than to receive funding and meet its mission,” he said. “As a changemaker and storyteller, my role is to amplify the places where these systems intersect and advocate for change.”
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As a freshman at the University of the Arts, Campbell was selected as one of the school’s emerging leaders. He immersed himself in learning about what it takes to be a leader and innovator. More recently, he found himself reflecting on those formative experiences in a conversation with Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s director of student engagement and lead facilitator of the Ignite Retreat. Next thing he knew, Campbell had signed on as an Ignite Retreat coach.
“While chatting with Spud, I began to remember those days and conversations around finding a passion, a purpose and a project,” he said. “Being recommended by another coach who had attended another year definitely helped make it easier for me to decide to join. I am also a natural learner and love to hear about other people’s stories, journeys and questions that they are grappling with.”
“I’ve been called the great synthesizer,” Campbell added. “I love to hear, ask questions, and creatively solve complex problems. Another one of my great talents is to bring in pop culture references. One of my greatest abilities is my authenticity, vulnerability and ability to hold space.”
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Those are useful qualities, indeed, for anyone leading the various workshops offered at the Ignite Retreat. The twice-yearly event is designed to help college students chart their own individual paths as changemakers, understand and cultivate their personal passions, and develop projects to help improve their campuses and communities.
In his work with Ignite Retreat students, Campbell will focus on the power of “leading with grace” as changemakers—all while having a lot of fun. “I hope everyone will learn from me how to invite creativity and joy into their process,” he said. “I am also hoping the students will learn the importance of grace, boundaries and resilience from me.”
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