Ordway Extra: Racial Justice In The Arts

Tommy Sar, Ordway 1/14/18

Here in the Twin Cities there have been numerous efforts to use dance as a way of shining light on the uncomfortable discussion of race and the negative social constructs that affect Blacks, Native and Indigenous people and other people of color.

This pre-show Ordway Extra opened with Threads Dance Project performed excerpts from their acclaimed work, “The Secrets of Slave Songs” followed by a panel discussion moderated by Robin Hickman, CEO of SoulTouch Productions. The conversation covers the way art has been used to shine a spotlight on racial justice, which can sometimes be difficult to put into words. She was joined by Dr. Taiyon J. Coleman, Assistant Professor of English Literature, St. Catherine University, Rev. Dr. Curtiss DeYoung, CEO of Minnesota Council of Churches, and Karen Charles, Artistic/Executive Director of Threads Dance Project.

In this video, a recap of the evening’s discussion can be viewed.

View photos of this event in an online gallery

Videography and  photography by Sherine Onukwuwe, SoulEyes Films


Speaker Bios

Dr. Taiyon J. Coleman

Taiyon J Coleman is a poet, essayist, and teacher. She is a Cave Canem fellow, and her writing has appeared in Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam; Riding Shotgun: Women Writing about Their Mothers; The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South edited by Nikky Finney; Blues Vision; and How Dare We! Write: A Multicultural Creative Writing Discourse edited by Sherry Quan Lee.  Taiyon’s critical essay, “Disparate Impacts: Living Just Enough for the City,” appears in the 2016 anthology, A Good Time for the Truth, edited by Sun Yung Shin. Mapping Our Potential: a Poem as a Spatial and Temporal Mapping of Human Experience is her TEDx talk. Her article, “The Risky Business of Engaging Racial Equity in Writing Instruction: A Tragedy in Five Acts,” published in TETYC was awarded the Mark Reynolds TETYC Best Article Award for 2017. Taiyon has been an invited panelist on Minnesota Public Radio’s (MPR) Disparities in Minnesota from the Eyes of Those Who Fight Them; Who are We as Americans after this Election?; What is Feminism Today?; The Power of Live Performances; What Happens when Women Challenge Powerful Men?; and a special episode of MPR’s nationally syndicated Flyover show, America Grapples with the Pervasiveness of Sexual Harassment, as hosted by national correspondent Kerri Miller. Taiyon earned a MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in English Literature and Culture with a minor in African American and African Diaspora Studies from the University of Minnesota, Twin-Cities, and she is a 2017 recipient of a McKnight Foundation Artist Fellowship in Creative Prose. Taiyon is Assistant Professor of English Literature at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and her most recent writing, “Poems as Maps: An Introduction,” appears in the August 2017 issue of Places Journal. Taiyon has an essay in the forthcoming Shadowlands: An Illustrated Reader in Racialized Violence in America, Selected Writings on the Art of Ken Gonzales-Day, and Taiyon’s book, The Importance of Equity in Writing Instruction: Critiquing the Community College Composition Classroom, is forthcoming in 2018 from the Routledge Research in Higher Education Series.


Reverend Dr. Curtiss Paul DeYoung

Rev. Dr. Curtiss Paul DeYoung is the CEO of the Minnesota Council of Churches. Previously he was the Executive Director of the historic racial justice organization Community Renewal Society in Chicago and the inaugural Professor of Reconciliation Studies at Bethel University in St. Paul. He earned degrees from the University of St. Thomas, Howard University School of Divinity, and Anderson University. He is an author and editor of ten books including Radical Reconciliation: Beyond Political Pietism and Christian Quietism (with South African anti-apartheid activist Allan Boesak) and Living Faith: How Faith Inspires Social Justice. He consults and speaks nationally and internationally with extensive relationships among activists and peacemakers in South Africa and the Holy Land.


Karen Charles

A dedicated performer, teacher and creator, Karen Long Charles received a BFA Ballet/BS Computer Science from Texas Christian University and M.Ed. in Administration from Georgia State University.  Charles has performed with numerous dance companies including Room to Move Dance Company (Atlanta, GA), Susan Warden Dance Company (Kansas City, MO) and was awarded a fellowship to study at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Charles served as Director at Perpich Arts High School and she was the founding Principal/Executive Director at Main Street School of Performing Arts. Charles has created/presented works for James Sewell Ballet, Carleton College, Macalester College, Main Street School of Performing Arts and Perpich Arts High School.

Threads Dance Project was founded by Karen L. Charles when her beloved father passed away leaving her just enough money to produce her first show in 2011 and realize her dream of becoming a choreographer and director of her own company.  Karen and her Threads Dance Project were nominated for a SAGE Dance Award for Outstanding Performance in 2015.  In addition to seasonal performances in the Twin Cities, Threads has successfully toured work to Atlanta, GA.  In February 2017, Threads toured “The Secrets of Slave Songs” to sold-out audiences.

Threads was also honored as one of six companies featured in American Dance Abroad’s (ADA): Pitchbook Volume II (Winter 2016) for In-Development Projects, for the Fall 2017 premiere piece “Uncertain Reality.” ADA’s publication is used as a representation of American dance around the world at festivals, performances and marketed to international programmers.

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