All posts by: ShaniJamila


This year Shani celebrated International Human Rights Day by curating Open Season, an evening of art + performance + conversation about women and girls in our culture of confinement. This thought provoking program, held at the National Black Theatre, featured a rendering of Itagua Meji and performances curated by Dancing While Black. It also provided an opportunity for the community to engage with leading thinkers and artists who are confronting mass incarceration such as Nina Angela Mercer, Ebony Noelle Golden, Aimee Meredith Cox, Nakisha Lewis, Donna Hylton, Lumumba Bandele and more.


Gorgeous photos and a full length video of the event are now available to share with you! In addition, all of the social media buzz about Open Season was chronicled on Storify. Check out the links to either see what you missed or relive an extraordinary evening.




Open Season 2015 was presented by the Human Rights Project of the Urban Justice Center and the National Black Theatre: Institute for Action Arts. Additional support was provided by The Studio Museum in Harlem, the International Center of Photography, NYU’s Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics, Angela’s Pulse and Dancing While Black.


As we enter into this holiday season bearing the unwelcome news that there will be no indictments in the death of Sandra Bland, please lift up the names, spirits and families of those who’ve been impacted by this crisis during this time. In spite of it all, we will win.


Open Season 2015

Thursday, December 10th; 6pm

2031 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10035



On Friday, October 2nd, Shani spoke at the 50th anniversary commemoration of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She joined a powerhouse group of change makers in a discussion about how to use cultural work to empower our communities.




On Saturday October 3rd, Shani spoke at the Creative Solutions symposium. This summer she had the wonderful opportunity to participate in a residency in upstate New York, where she was given time and support to do her work at the intersection of art and social change. She joined colleagues from a number of progressive social justice organizations to speak about her project.  Many thanks to those of you that came out to make both of these engagements a full house!

Installations + International Travel

Shani delivered a talk on citizen artists during the Black Portraiture{s} II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories conference in Florence, Italy this May. The gathering of artists, curators, and scholars including Carrie Mae Weems, Mickalene Thomas, Hank Willis Thomas, Renee Cox and Sanford Biggers was truly historic.


During a panel called Sister Outsider: Black American Women, Identity and Global Travel, Shani shared the stage with fellow speakers Michaela Angela Davis, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Sharon Harley, Asia Leeds and moderator Cheryl Finley. Each presented with their characteristic grace, insight and clarity. Check out the video!



Her talk begins at the 13 minute mark, but you are encouraged to take in the session in its entirety. Additionally, more videos from the conference are posted at, they are definitely worth watching.


After the conference concluded, she went on to spend several weeks touring Italy as she studied art and philosophy as a David Driskell fellow with the Institute for Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. Upon her return in June, she had the opportunity to lead an arts workshop/ community installation in honor of Black women and girls who’ve been impacted by state violence. Thanks to the wonderful staff of Writing On It All, she had a whole empty house on Governor’s Island to use as a canvas!




It was a lovely opportunity to transform the space and our spirits.


In the immediate wake of McKinley and Fairfield, and in the midst of this larger moment, we need to seize every opportunity to create sacred spaces for healing, creative resistance and expression. May the vision we articulated for Black women and girls come to pass.


Conferences + Media Mentions


For the past several years, in her capacity as the Director of the Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center, Shani organized an arts based training that engages a select cohort of social justice advocates from around the country.


The tenth annual institute was held in New York City this May. Participants discussed cultural strategy, community building and ways to use human rights mechanisms to address inequality in the U.S. Congrats to the latest class, who now join a nationwide cohort of really impressive alumni.


Just before the institute began, Shani had the opportunity to speak about my work fusing the arts and human rights at NYU’s Creative Arts and Social Work conference.  Many thanks to the organizers, especially Dr. Deborah Willis who chaired the panel.




Finally, Shani is a contributor to the internationally broadcast, all women of color radio show hosted by Esther Armah– The Spin. In May, she joined dream hampton and Glynda Carr to discuss White on White Crime: Texas Shoot Out, the Boycott Nike and Say Her Name campaigns. Click here to tune in. The first season of 2015 ended with the same group that began it: writer asha bandele, political scientist Dr. Christina Greer and Shani discussing Haiti and the Dominican Republic, vaccines and the black body, and forgiveness in the wake of the Charleston massacre. If you’d like to hear this one, click here to listen to the show.

Academic Announcements


As a student at Spelman College, Shani’s work was affirmed, her path was set, her chosen family was found. That is why she was so honored to have her career featured on Spelman’s home page during the month of February. Thank you for celebrating her work in the arts and human rights.


Shani’s artwork is currently being shown in  Princeton University‘s  All Rise exhibition. For those of you in the vicinity, please visit the campus to view this show– open until April 4th.




Finally, Shani will be presenting on global travel, art and social justice during Black Portraiture{s} II: Imaging the Black Body and Re-Staging Histories, an upcoming conference in Florence, Italy. This historic gathering of artists, curators, and scholars is being organized by Deborah Willis, Awam Amkpa, Ulrich Baer, Manthia Diawara, Robert Holmes, Ellyn Toscano from NYU; Henry Louis Gates from Harvard; and Thelma Golden from the Studio Museum of Harlem. Participants include Michaela angela Davis, Carrie Mae Weems, Mickalene Thomas, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Hank Willis Thomas, Imani Uzuri, Sanford Biggers and more. To preview the full schedule, click here.


Art Exhibits + Media Mentions


In addition to the Princeton show mentioned above, Shani was happy to have artwork exhibited at the SCOPE New York flagship fair this March, as part of Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation’s The Time Is Now exhibit. The show, which featured twenty Rush contemporary alumni artists, was held one block across from The Armory Show piers at Metropolitan Pavilion West alongside 60 international galleries.




In media news, it has now been ten years since Decipher Radio launched on WPFW 89.3FM in Washington D.C.! Shani participated in the anniversary broadcast, which included retrospectives from all who were founding members. She’ll always be grateful that her first gig as a radio talk show host allowed such creative freedom, intellectual rigor and just plain fun. Please join her in offering continued support for this strip of programming and in wishing a happy anniversary to Decipher: the music, the movement, the message.


Currently Shani is is a regular contributor to The Spin, an internationally broadcast radio program hosted by Esther Armah. In March 2015 she was on with Dr. Blair Kelley to discuss Selma, Ferguson and the campaign to put a woman on the $20 bill. Click here to listen in. In January, she was on the first episode of 2015 with writer asha bandele and political scientist Dr. Christina Greer. Here is the link to tune into that show.


Lastly, Shani wrote a new blog about her trip to Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Selma-Montgomery march, an event that came to occupy an iconic place in the American imagination. To check it out, visit her site on the Huffington Post.  Enjoy!


Next Up


Next up, the tenth annual Human Rights Institute will be held in New York City this May. This arts based training engages a select cohort of social justice advocates from around the country. Shani leads it in her capacity as the director of the Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center.

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Click here to read the full article, “Human Rights Advocate Travels the Globe in Pursuit of Change,” Alumnae Success Profile. Spelman College. February 14, 2015




Shani’s in the Arts Section of the New York Times!


A photograph Shani captured during her time in Ferguson, which is currently featured in the Respond exhibit at the Smack Mellon Gallery, is mentioned in today’s New York Times as emblematic of the take-away message of the show! They describe it as “a knockout group show” that “has produced a soundtrack of shouts, cries, chants and whispers to set against the wall of insulating white noise that enwraps the art world at large.” Click here to read the article in the NYT!




About The Exhibit: “After learning of the grand jury’s decision to not indict Daniel Pantaleo, Smack Mellon postponed a planned exhibition in order to respond to the continued failure of the United States to protect its black citizens from police discrimination and violence. In order to channel our outrage into actions that can facilitate systemic change, [the] gallery space will be used to present events, performances and artworks that affirm that black lives matter, express frustration and anger with the institutional racism that enables law enforcement to kill black members of the community with impunity, and imagine creative solutions and visionary alternatives to a broken justice system.”


92 Plymouth Street @ Washington
Brooklyn, NY 11201
January 17- February 22, 2015
Gallery hours: Wed-Sun, 12-6pm


Sincere thanks to Smack Mellon’s current Studio Artists Esteban del Valle, Molly Dilworth, Oasa DuVerney, Ira Eduardovna, Steffani Jemison, and Dread Scott, and the Smack Mellon staff, who were the lead organizers of RESPOND. Hope you’re able to check it out!


Human Rights Training Opportunity
10th Annual Human Rights Institute



The Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center is pleased to announce that applications for our 10th annual Human Rights Institute (HRI) are currently available. The institute promotes good governance and social change by training a select group of participants from around the country to strengthen their local advocacy efforts by using a human rights frame. Alumni become part of a nationwide community of advocates and have access to ongoing education, technical support, and dialogue. This year’s HRI, co-sponsored by the U.S. Human Rights Network, will be held from May 7-9, 2015 in New York City.


To obtain a copy of the application, please click here.


Applications with scholarship requests must be sent by February 23, 2015. The deadline for applications without a scholarship request is February 27, 2015.

Spelman College, September 2012: With the advent of this new school year, the Laura Spelman dorm reopened after having been renovated to house the college’s recently created Social Justice Fellows program. One of the highlights of the newly repurposed living and learning center is a visual timeline that was created to trace the history of Black women’s advocacy from 1881, when Spelman was founded, to the present day. Artist Therese McKee Huffman put together an absolutely beautiful montage of women who have made “A Choice to Change the World.” The faces on the wall include Fannie Lou Hamer, Michelle Obama, Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Anna Julia Cooper, Audre Lorde, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis, Toni Cade Bambara, Johnetta B. Cole, Alice Walker and the list goes on.

Seeing this mural in person was one of those moments that absolutely took my breath away!!!! I am awed, humbled and deeply honored to be included amongst so many of my sheroes in this permanent installation at my beloved alma mater. It makes me really proud to know that generations of Spelman women will be as inspired as I was by this demonstration of our institutional commitment to social justice. Click here to read an article about it.