Who We Are

Azure D. Osborne-Lee (Artistic & Executive Director) is an interdisciplinary artist: a performer, writer, director, producer, visual artist, and teacher. As a performer and playwright, Azure’s work has been staged internationally. Having completed playwriting residencies with Freedom Train Productions in Brooklyn, NY (2010) and New Shoes Theatre in London, UK (2011), Azure was selected as a finalist for the 2011/2012 Soho Rep’s Writer/Director Lab and a semi-finalist for the 2012 New York Theatre Workshop Emerging Artist Fellowship Program. A published poet, Azure was a participant in both of Cave Canem’s 2011 fall poetry workshops. Azure holds a BA in English & Spanish and an MA in Women’s and Gender Studies from The University of Texas at Austin as well as an MA in Advanced Theatre Practice from The Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, University of London. Learn more about Azure at: http://azureosborne-lee.com.

Cyrée Jarelle Johnson (Development Associate) is a Black Femme dyke writer,  essayist, zinester, and poet. Cyrée Jarelle is committed to relocating Femme culture from margin to center using writing, non-formal education and communal publication. Hir work has appeared in Sprinkle: A Journal of Sexual Diversity Studies, Kush Magazine, and Pink and Black Attack, as well as numerous other zines and publications. Ze is a regular contributor at the blog Elixher.com. Hir collaborative zine project, Femme Dreamboat, addresses concepts of gendered homelands, lesbian patriotism, and feminine fabulosity. Ze remains a crippled Jersey Grrl abroad; in hir swollen feet ze is a wanderer, but hir heart is in the foodcourt at the Woodbridge Mall.

Nikki Patin (Mentor) has been writing for over two decades. She has taught hundreds of workshops on performance poetry, body image, sexual assault prevention and LGBT issues. Patin has worked as a sexual assault prevention educator for Rape Victim Advocates and as a case manager/program coordinator for Center on Halsted’s youth program. Patin has performed, taught and spoken at elementary schools, high schools, colleges and universities such as Francis Parker, University of Chicago, Adler School of Psychology, Northwestern University, Nancy B. Jefferson High School (located within the Cook County Temporary Juvenile Detention Center), University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison and –Stevens Point and many others.

Aurin Squire (Mentor) is a writer and producer interested in spiritual questions of faith, gender, and individual identity. He’s an avid student of quantum physics, Buddhist logic, and A Course in Miracles. Squire started working as a newspaper reporter and editor for various outlets. He’s worked on commissioned plays about AIDS in the Black community, revolutionary activist in Chile, and Jewish families who escaped from the Spanish Inquisition. He worked with Local Project “Dreams of Freedom” on a multimedia exhibit on Jewish immigrants. “Dreams” won 3 awards and is in the permanent exhibit at the National Museum for American Jewish History in Philadelphia. He keeps a blog at sixperfections.blogspot.com.

tiona.m. (Mentor), Executive Producer/Director of Harriet’s Gun Media™ is an award winning multi-media artist whose mission is to make the invisible, visible and humanize her subjects. She believes that her work as a filmmaker and visual artist can inspire various communities by affirming their existence in contemporary society and culture. Her feature-length documentary film,  black./womyn.: conversations with lesbians of African descent, provides a platform for Black lesbians to speak for themselves and to confront the hyper-sexualized image of the Black lesbian. black./womyn. was awarded the Audience Award for Best Documentary by the Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival{now QFest} in 2008. Tiona continues to develop and create films on progressive topics with the hope of directing a narrative feature-length project in the near future. She is currently in production with her next feature length documentaryThe Untitled Black Lesbian Elder Project, recently completed a short narrative film Bumming Cigarettes,and an experimental short series called Be Alarmed: The Black Americana Epic, which is an magical realism themed take on the Black American experience. 
Mekeva McNeil (Mentor) is a southern transplant with roots in Houston, Texas. She has studied theatre for most of her life. She received her MFA in Directing from the Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University in 2011.  Some of her directing work includes Chain by Pearl Cleage, Woman to Woman and Mirrors with Freedom Train Productions Mekeva also enjoyed projects such as Affections of an Alleycat, and Leroi Jones’ The Dutchman.  Additionally, she has taught public school in communities including New York and Houston. Mekeva now resides in Brooklyn and is looking forward to exploring all creative and non-conventional avenues in the realm of theatre, domestically and internationally.

Dominic Cinnamon Bradley (Mentee) is a Black queer, masculine of center (MoC), crip and sick multidisciplinary artist from the Dirty South. Dominic holds a B.A. in Sociology from The Johns Hopkins University and an M.S. in Social Work from Columbia University. As an artist, Dominic has explored acting, poetry, visual art, performance art, photography, film, and dance.  Dominic combines Liberation Aesthetics and a thorough grounding in such issues as violence, poverty, and intergenerational trauma to shift our current reality towards one in which greater physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and societal health becomes a moral imperative.  Dominic is proud to sit on the Advisory Board for Black Women’s Blueprint and has had the honor of doing some cultural organizing with BWB focused on eradicating rape and sexual assault.  A recent graduate of EMERGENYC—a program of NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, Dominic’s newest performance piece dealt with gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and desire.  For more information about Dominic’s work, please visit www.dommebomb.com.

Manikk Arte (Mentee) is a multicultural inter-disciplinary musical, visual and performance artist. With a passion for all things beautiful Manikk uses many different methods in expressing thoughts, trials and tribulations. Born in Virginia and raised in The Gambia, West Africa,  Manikk recieved an upbringing that truly formed the artist into the person that they are today. Spreading the message of power through the fashion line, Poison Fashion Designs, to their poetry and music, this artist wishes to create and bond the elements of delicate and destructive.

Malanya Graham (Mentee) is a first generation Jamaican-American, a lesbian, and a daughter-among-many. Born in Queens and raised all over New York City, she now resides in a proud little Bronx studio.  She is rooted in activism, painting and mixed media and has recently introduced herself to sculpture and performance art.  She is centered on altering the rubble of relationships, experimenting with belief and then documenting futures.  Her body is a first testament and her mind does not fit the status quo. Community organizing and showing love is second skin and, while she is in the process of pursuing her undergrad degree, her sights are set on connecting seemingly unfamiliar people and forming unbreakable bonds through creativity and healing.  Inspired by stories of resilience and rebirth told through form, color and language, she feels most alive when she is learning.  She reads and takes notes in many forms because you are beautiful and her memory is atrocious. Malanya is not magic yet. She is on that path, though, with a big brush and an even bigger canvas. She likes long rides in train cars. Roots and River is her next stop.

Lorraine LaPrade (Mentee) is a writer, drag prince, and performance artist interested in queering social norms in order to re-imagine identity, community, and public space. She is a native of Baltimore, MD currently residing in Brooklyn. She is a quirky “girl power” enthusiast training to become a self-defense instructor. She believes the  creative and martial arts can inspire women and girls to lead the change in their communities.

Taja Lindley (Mentee) is a young queer woman of color, daughter of a single mother and the eldest of three sisters. She is acutely aware of the challenges facing women today and is excited about transcending these challenges with art, critical thinking, healing and entrepreneurship. As a self-taught mixed-media artist, performer, full-spectrum doula and activist, Taja is inspiring and aspiring wellness, creativity and reproductive justice. She founded Colored Girls Hustle (www.ColoredGirlsHustle.com), an organization that honor the creations, adorn the bodies and affirm the strengths of women and girls of color. She is an associate member of the Body Ecology Performance Ensemble and their campaign “RingShout for Reproductive Justice.” She has a private doula practice as well as volunteers as an abortion and birth doula with The Doula Project NYC. In that project she also serves as a member of the Leadership Circle, a consensus decision-making body for the organization. Taja is excited about building her solo performance work and visual art practice through the Roots & River Emerging Artist Mentorship Program.

Najee Haynes-Follins (Mentee) is a costume designer and fine artist who graduated from Hampshire College in May 2011.  Her work at Hampshire centered around costume and character with an emphasis on the practice of representing race for an audience. She has designed several major Hampshire theater productions including: “The Last Stop Between Us” by Khi Armand, “B.F.E.” by Julie Cho, and “The (Sexual) Liberation of Mammy” by J.D. Stokley.  Her current work is a continuation of her exploration of race, identity and representation through mask-making. Najee also hopes to open a thrift store of her very own in the next few years.

j.D. Stokely (Branch Artist) graduated from Hampshire College in 2011, where they studied playwriting, directing and applied theatre . They recently helped produce two shows in Brooklyn, NY as a part of an Emerging Artist Mentorship Program with Roots and River Productions, an arts-production company that focuses on emerging queer artists of color. Other projects they’ve worked on include “There’s So Much I Want to Tell You” (actor), “The (Sexual) Liberation of Mammy” (playwright & director), 5-College Multicultural WORD Festival 2010 & 2011 (playwright & director). Stokely is currently working on an interactive multi-media installation, “Ode to Shalimar”, as a part of Hybridge Arts Collective’s first Blueprint Breakout Artists. They are looking forward to forthcoming collaborations with the newly formed Philadelphia Collective of Roots & River.

Petra Floyd (Branch Artist) is a Liberian-American visual artist from Philadelphia, PA. She’s a graduate of Swarthmore College, where she sculpted odd objects from found materials that explore femininity, creepiness, and the human body. She firmly believes in “productive discomfort” and uses her objects and installations to provoke unease in her audience. She’s excited to enter the world of inter-disciplinary art as a designer and collaborate with artists that share her identities. Her thesis exhibition, The Body and the Blood, can be viewed here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/93294923@N00/sets/72157626649243258/

Former Roots & River Artists

Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene (2011/2012 Mentor) is an Ijaw and Urhobo Nigerian dyke performance activist, poet, dancer, essayist, playwright and actress who was born with a mouth full of dynamite and sugarcane. She uses her poetry to chisel a verbal sculpture of her soul for listeners while addressing issues of race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, war, imperialism, love, self-esteem and family. Etaghene has self-published three collections of poetry, toured nationally and performed in over 30 u.s. cities. She was interviewed by and was a Contributing Writer to None on Record: Stories of Queer Africa, a sound documentary project that collects the stories of QLGBT Africans from the African Continent and the Diaspora. Her one woman show, Volcano’s Birthright{s}, debuted in May 2009 in New York City. Etaghene is a mixed-media visual artist who produced 4 solo art exhibitions.  For more information about her work & future performances please visit www.myloveisaverb.com. Her performative work can be found at: www.youtube.com/AfrocrownDiva.

Uni Q. Mical (2011/2012 Mentee) is a Black queer wryter/excyter who aims to keep it hyper from Baltimore, MD. She graduated from Hampshire College in Amherst, MA in May 2009, with a Bachelors of Arts in Creative Writing and Black Studies. She has actively lifted her poems off of the page since age 13, featuring at prominent venues and conferences in Baltimore, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, Western Massachusetts, Austin, and Atlanta. After Hampshire, she immediately moved to Brooklyn, where she continued to connect with other souls, performing with the Bending Threads Cabaret Company, Black August, and at the Nuyorican Poets Café, to name a few. She has since expanded into the world of plays, creative non-fiction, blogging, and emceeing. Having a heart tied to social justice work, she realized her dire passion and commitment to the movement is through her words. These words attempt to slash through the silences that we all (un)comfortably live with, place a mirror to our societies so that we SPEAK to each other, build dialogue, and love a lot. As a loudmouthed Sagittarius, the letters T, M, and I don’t exist in her vocab, so don’t say she didn’t warn you. She really appreciates laughter as medicine, and appreciates you for your good company.  She plans to obtain her MFA in Creative Writing in Fall 2012.

Miatta Kawinzi (2011/2012 Branch Artist) is an inter-disciplinary visual, media, and performance artist. Her work explores ideas around cultural hybridity, gender deconstruction, and social structures. Born and raised in the US South of Liberian and Kenyan parentage, she received a BA in Inter-Disciplinary Arts & Cultural Theory from Hampshire Collee in 2010 and is now based in NYC. She is a current artist-in-residence at Flux Factory and has exhibited her work at various galleries and venues including the Brecht Forum, the Art for Change Gallery, and Anthology Film Archives. She is also a teaching artist, panelist, and workshop facilitator and is interested in community-building through the arts and reaching diverse audiences. Learn more: http://mkawstudio.com.