The Youth Programs Advisory Board is a group of committed volunteers who bring a specific set of skills to supporting the executive staff of the Elma Lewis Center in effectively running the Youth Development programs housed therein, namely Youth LEAD, Creative Community Network, and the TIDE Conference. In their roles, they support the sustainability, growth, impact, and alignment of the programs with the mission and purpose of the Social Justice Collaborative, the Elma Lewis Center, and Youth Programs.
Advisory Board members serve on the board for one year with the possibility of renewing that commitment on an annual basis in August. In addition to bi-monthly meetings as a board, they serve on one of the committees which support the growth of the Youth Programs and the ongoing work of the Advisory Board. These committees are Fundraising, Community Engagement and Government Relations, and Learning and Development.
The Youth Programs Advisory Board is composed of 10 Board Members and is guided and supported by the Assistant Director for Youth Development and the Executive Director of the Elma Lewis Center in the Social Justice Collaborative at Emerson College.
A mapping of the terrain—earthling ((Black dyke: creative: writer: artist: activist: womanist: mama/daddy: wildcrafter: witch)) lover, connector, drapetomaniac, nerd n instigator. In addition to Juba and Here, Letta is the author of the chapbooks When We Were Mud and gawd and alluh huh sistuhs.
Her plays: “Hamartia Blues", "Last Rites", and “Shackles & Sugar” have been produced in Boston, Philly, and Los Angeles.She is a co-artistic director for Fort Point Theatre Channel, a member of the TRACES/ REMAIN Collective, and an Associate Director of Apprentice Learning. She is also an actor and director. The divine estuary where struggle and liberation meet/ is a cauldron/ is ancestral and future/ is where she bathes.
Lizzy Cooper Davis, PhD, is an artist, scholar, and educator interested in how the arts can facilitate community conversation, resistance, and change. She is particularly focused on Black freedom movements and has conducted research in Cuba, Brazil, and New Orleans. Her recent work has included research on Black cultural organizing in the U.S. through a Ford Fellowship hosted by Harvard’s Music Department, and an arts-based community engagement project with artists and activists in Berkshire County hosted by Jacob’s Pillow Dance. Lizzy is a long-time partner of the Urban Bush Women, has trained with Augusto and Julian Boal and used their methods in multiple communities, and has performed nationally as an actor. She is an Assistant Professor of Applied Theatre at Emerson College.
Dr. Sylvia Spears is the current Vice President for Administration and Innovation at College Unbound and has the additional title of Distinguished Professor of Educational Equity and Social Justice. She has more than twenty-five years of experience working in higher education at public and private colleges and universities, with more than fifteen years of experience in senior leadership roles. Dr. Spears most recently served as Vice President for Equity and Social Justice at Emerson College for over 9 years, during which time she launched the Elma Lewis Center. She has held senior leadership positions at the University of Rhode Island, Bryant University, Dartmouth College, and New England College. She has significant experience as a faculty member in human development and education, and also brings expertise in faculty development related to the creation of inclusive and equitable learning environments.
Sylvia earned her doctoral degree at the University of Rhode Island in its joint program in education with Rhode Island College. She has a strong commitment to community-centered approaches that provide material relief, and support the self-determination of individuals and communities. She also has substantial experience as a public speaker, trainer, and facilitator with expertise in organizational development and the delivery of educational programs for students, staff, and faculty. In 2021, Dr. Spears was selected as one of the 50 Most Influential People of Color in Higher Education.
Kiana Pierre-Louis, Esq. is a Senior Law Lecturer, Pre-law Advisor, and a Course Coordinator at Bentley University in the Law & Taxation Department. Starting in May, Kiana will transition to Northeastern University School of Law where she will be the first appointed Assistant Dean of DEI. In addition to being a Professor at Bentley University, Kiana is also an alumnus of Bentley University holding a B.S. in Business Communications and a minor in English in 1999. She received a J.D.from Suffolk University Law School in 2002 cum laude and passed the bar that same year.
In 2009, after working for multiple law firms and starting her own, Kiana decided to focus on teaching and family. Kiana has a passion for Social Justice and Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice and is a consultant and facilitator in this work. She has won numerous awards that recognize her work in advising and mentoring students, her leadership and dedication to advancing DEI initiatives, and her outstanding teaching capabilities. Kiana is the Chair of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee for the Town of Sharon and sits on the Board of Directors for KodeConnect, Inc. She's also the Interim President and a board member of Sharon Racial Equity Alliance (SREA). Kiana has been recognized for her social justice advocacy as a 2021 Massachusetts Black & Latino Caucus Black Excellence on the Hill Nominee and honored as Citizen of the Year in 2021 by the Town of Sharon.
Ravi Kacker is a Senior Vice President in U.S. Bank’s National Corporate Banking Group where he oversees a portfolio of diversified industrial Corporate Banking clients. Ravi began his banking career at Bank of Boston and has spent over 30 years at Bank of America, Santander Bank and U.S. Bank (since 2015).
Ravi is a parent of two former Youth LEADers and has been a member of the board for nine years. He is an active member of Stage Ensemble Theater Unit (SETU), a non-profit theater group in the Boston area, whose mission is to build bridges between Indian and Western cultures through the medium of theater. He also loves to travel. Ravi and his wife Anisha live in Sharon, MA.
Raj Sharma is the founder of The Sharma Group at Merrill, bringing more than three decades of financial services experience. Thoughtful and analytic, with an excellent understanding of the global markets, Raj has received numerous industry recognitions. Barron's has named him as one of America's Top 100 Financial Advisors for 18 consecutive years through 2021 - putting him among the "Hall of Fame” advisors who have appeared on the list for ten consecutive years. He has also been recognized among the nation’s top advisors by Forbes and Financial Times.
Raj earned a Master’s degree in Business Management, with a concentration in Finance, from Osmania University in Hyderabad, India, and a Master’s degree in mass communications from Emerson College in Boston. Raj is active in many local and global organizations. In addition to serving on the Youth LEAD Advisory Board, he is a former chairman and current trustee of The Boston Harbor Island Alliance, sits on the board of trustees of Emerson College, and serves on the advisory board of RIAN Immigrant Center. He is also a board member emeritus and trustee of the American India Foundation. Raj was the recipient of the Solas Award by Rian Immigrant center for his contributions as an immigrant to US society.
Nalini Sharma, a native of Sharon is an active philanthropist in the Boston area and is active in a lot of civic organizations. With quiet humility and tremendous grace, Nalini has done this by making a tremendous difference to the people and community around her. A warm compassionate person she cares deeply about the causes she supports and generously gives her time and effort in promoting them selflessly.
For the past 24 years Nalini, along with her husband Raj, have been actively involved and strongly supporting many philanthropies – local, very local and global. All of them are about things that she is passionate about – the environment and the outdoors, youth empowerment, music and art, and helping the under-served. These include support of the Boston Harbor Island Alliance, serving as a trustee and an active member of the Leadership council of the Boston chapter of the American India Foundation, and as a member of the Board of MITHAS, MIT’s Heritage of the Arts of South Asia. Nalini is also a Patron at the Museum of Fine Arts and an ardent supporter of Mass Audubon, The Nature Conservancy, and Trustees of Reservations.
After nearly 28 years in higher education, Ruthanne has worked in a wide range of roles at a variety of institutions. Ruthanne dedicated 13 years of service to her alma mater, Stetson University (FL), starting as a Financial Aid Counselor and rising to the role of Associate Dean of Admissions/Director of Financial Aid and then Director of Development. Ruthanne then helped to open one of the first new medical schools in decades at the University of Central Florida. At UCF’s College of Medicine, she was one of the founding members of its administration, assisting with the attainment of LCME accreditation which led to the recruitment and support of its very first class of medical doctors-all of whom were provided full scholarships.
Ruthanne started her Emerson journey as Associate Vice President for Enrollment, Student Financial Services in 2011 prior to being appointed as interim Vice President for Enrollment Management in November 2014. This became her permanent role in May 2015. Ruthanne also currently serves as the Interim Vice President for Equity & Social Justice. She holds her Doctorate in higher education leadership from Nova Southeastern (FL) and earned her MBA and BBA in accounting and marketing from Stetson University (FL).
Peggy Ings is the Vice President for Government and Community Relations at Emerson College, where she acts as the College’s liaison for communications between municipal, state and federal agencies in Boston and LA. Peggy maintains strong working relationships with abutting and surrounding neighborhoods and continues to develop new and on-going partnerships while expanding the College’s civic engagement by members of the faculty, staff and students.
Previous to her position at Emerson College, Peggy was the coordinator of the Midtown Cultural/Theater District in the Economic Development Department at the Boston Redevelopment Authority. She holds MS degrees in Healthcare Management and Arts Administration from Lesley College and a BFA degree in Dramatic Arts from Emerson College.
Tamera Marko is a mother, time traveler archivist, ocean swimmer, ancestral translingualer, multi-media story weaver and social justice story worker, is co-founding President of Mobility Movilidad and is currently the Executive Director of the Elma Lewis Center in the Social Justice Center and on faculty at Emerson College. For thirty years, and in the last 14 years in Boston, she has been dedicated to what stories can do to disrupt structural violence. She worked as a human rights journalist in the Americas, Africa and Asia; an historian of legacies of slavery and weaving narratives of resilience, fugitivity and liberation; faculty in history, Writing Studies and art; and in ongoing collaboration at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and with desplazadas and community leaders in Colombia.
Tam choreographs, weaves and co-creates with diverse communities of all ages numerous projects at the Elma Lewis Center, including the Elma Lewis Living Stories Project, The Social Justice Archive network, The Last Dream TPS Zine: Our Families Are Not Temporary, Proyecto Boston Medellín Transnational Art As Social Justice, Medellín Mi Hogar with community leaders, Proyecto Carrito with maintenance workers, FIREWATER Poetics (MCed and curated by Letta Neely). She also supports the Assistant Director for Community Engagement and the Assistant Director for Youth Development with the Social Justice Solidarity Circles, Creative Community Network, Youth LEAD, the TIDE Conference, and more. Tam has Ph.D in Latin American History (on systems of abolition and liberation in the Americas) and a Master’s Degree in Communications and Latin American Studies from the University of California, San Diego. She also was a Mellon Fellow Post Doc Faculty member in the Writing Program at Duke University and has been faculty at Emerson College for the past 14 years. Learn more about Tam and her work and publications here.