Originally from Chicago, Amanda Torres is a loud laughing Mexican American writer, educator, and strategic dreamer who has committed her life to growing the field of youth arts and social justice work. She is the co-founder & former director of MassLEAP, a youth arts and social justice non-profit. While living in Boston, she served as a Teaching Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Artist-in-Residence at the Institute of Contemporary Art. She has been teaching for over thirteen years and has led professional developments for The Poetry Foundation, The New Museum, Andover Breadloaf and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). In 2018, She received the Spoken Word and Community Collaboration fellowship from AIRSerenbe and works as a creative content writer for Harper Collins. Currently, Torres serves as the director of the Poetry Incubator, a program for community engaged poets held by the Poetry Foundation & Crescendo Literary in Chicago. Exploring science and tech through art and writing, Amanda also works with Brooklyn based young women, trans & non-binary youth to imagine and construct futures for themselves and their communities through the Octavia Project. Additionally, she facilitates a multi-disciplinary year round teaching artist training program through Community Word Project in New York. Torres is committed to working with educators, organizers and young people to make the world more possible.
Aysha Upchurch, the Dancing Diplomat, identifies as a seed planter, soil agitator, and curious and passionate artist who creates, facilitates, and designs for radical change. Professionally, this translates to her working as a sought after performer, instructor and education consultant whose work sits at the nexus of youth advocacy, social justice, and transformative education.
While based out of Washington, DC, Aysha founded and directed the award-winning dance ensemble, Life, Rhythm, Move Project. In 2007, she was commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing arts to create Am I On?, evening-length Hip Hop work that explored the space between youth and adult voices, standardized testing, and school shootings. The work exemplified her commitment to center Hip Hop as a mechanism to entertain, educate, and empower.
Aysha holds an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University and an Ed.M from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. She has been on faculty at George Mason University, Howard Community College, and Salem State University. Aysha is currently on faculty at Harvard, where she is teaching new courses on Hip Hop education and embodied learning, as well as launching and directing HipHopEX - a collaborative lab for high school and graduate student to experience, explore, and experiment with Hop Hop arts in education. Whether on the stage or in a classroom, Aysha is on the move to crush borders and show how Hip Hop and movement education are D.O.P.E. - dismantling oppression and pushing education.
Adrian Anantawan holds degrees from the Curtis Institute of Music, Yale University and Harvard Graduate School of Education. As a violinist, he has studied with Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman, and Anne-Sophie Mutter; his academic work in education was supervised by Howard Gardner. Memorable moments include performances at the White House, the Opening Ceremonies of the Athens and Vancouver Olympic Games and the United Nations. He has played for the late Christopher Reeve, Pope John Paul II, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Adrian has performed extensively in Canada as a soloist with the Orchestras of Toronto, Nova Scotia, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Montreal, Edmonton and Vancouver. He has also presented feature recitals at the Aspen Music Festival and Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.
He has also represented Canada as a cultural ambassador in the 2006 Athens Olympics, and was a featured performer at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics Opening Ceremonies.
Adrian helped to create the Virtual Chamber Music Initiative at the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Centre. The cross-collaborative project brings researchers, musicians, doctors and educators together to develop adaptive musical instruments capable of being played by a young person with disabilities within a chamber music setting.
From 2012-2016, he was the co-Director of Music at the Conservatory Lab Charter School, serving students from the Boston area, kindergarten through grade eight—his work was recognized by Mayor Walsh as a ONEin3 Impact Award in 2015. Adrian is also Juno Award nominee, a member of the Terry Fox Hall of Fame, and was awarded a Diamond Jubilee Medal from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II for his contributions to the Commonwealth. He is the current Chair of Music at Milton Academy and on faculty at Boston University Tanglewood Institute during the summer. Throughout the year, Adrian continues to perform, speak and teach around the world as an advocate for disability and the arts.