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Production still from "Broken Codes" - Theatre Ninjas

strengthening, unifying and connecting greater Cleveland's arts and culture sector

Our Programs


Empowering Youth

How does arts and culture create positive interventions and alternatives for youth? 

Arts and culture is a powerful catalyst for helping youth tell their stories and change the course of their lives. Join us as we explore how arts and culture is empowering youth voices to lead conversations about mental health, conflict and neighborhood challenges. This session will explore the development of hip hop therapy as a way to engage youth in mental health services. It will also look at arts and culture’s role in education and how it can help Cleveland’s youth become change agents in their communities. We will end the session with a moderated discussion with our keynote presenters about harnessing arts and culture as a force for positive outcomes for Cleveland’s youth.

Event date & time: Thursday, May 19th, 1:30 - 5:30 p.m.


Tomás Alvarez III, Ashoka Fellow, and Founder, Beats Rhymes and Life, Inc.

Tomas Alvarez headshot

Fueled by his discontent with traditional mental health systems, Tomás set out to re-imagine mental health for boys and men of color. In 2004 while working as a school social worker he pioneered one of the first Hip-Hop Therapy programs in an effort to engage youth turned off by traditional forms of therapy. In 2011, he founded the nonprofit Beats Rhymes and Life, Inc. and served as its CEO until 2015. In 2012, his efforts using Hip-Hop Therapy in Oakland were the focus of an award-winning documentary film (A Lovely Day). His unique approach to Hip-Hop Therapy has been the feature of numerous books and scholarly articles. As public speaker, Tomás has spoken at conferences, symposiums and colleges across the country.

Tomás’ numerous awards and recognitions throughout his career are a tribute to his vision, leadership and impact. In 2012 NBC Latino named Tomás Alvarez III one of the country’s Top 20 Innovators, whose work is changing their fields. The top honor placed Tomás in the company of other innovators such as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Rosario Dawson and Dolores Huerta. In 2014 Tomás was selected as a lifetime fellow by Ashoka, an international organization that identifies and supports social entrepreneurs whose bold ideas have the power to transform patterns in society. Most recently Tomás was named a CNN Hero, a top honor that highlights everyday people who are changing the world. 

Tomás received his BA in social work from San Francisco State University (2004) and Masters in social work from Smith College School for Social Work (2006). Currently, he is a SEERS fellow at Stanford University’s Program on Social Entrepreneurship where he is working to launch a global institute for Hip-Hop Therapy.

Daniel Gray-Kontar, Poet, Educator, Youth Mentor, and Founder of Twelve: Literary and Performative Arts Incubator

Daniel Gray-Kontar is a poet, rapper, journalist, educator, and youth mentor. His poetry has appeared in such anthologies as Bum Rush the Page: A Def Poetry Jam (Three Rivers Press)Spirit and Flame: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry (Syracuse University Press), and on the sound recording Grand Slam: The Best of the National Poetry Slam, Volume One (Mouth Almighty Records). Kontar is also the 1994 national poetry slam co-champion.

In 2008, performing under the moniker Replife, Kontar released his first full-length album titled “The Unclosed Mind” (Futuristica Music). He has performed on over 30 international sound recordings. Kontar’s music and social criticism has appeared in such magazines as The SourceThe Village VoiceWax Poetics, and XLR8R. He is the former editor and publisher of the underground monthly magazine, Urban Dialect.

Gray-Kontar is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley’s department of Language, Literacy, Society and Culture, and is the current Chair of the Department of Literary Arts at the Cleveland School of the Arts.

Phillip F. Morris, columnist, The Plain Dealer

Phillip Morris headshot

Phillip Morris, a native of Columbus, Ohio, attended Ohio Wesleyan University from 1983 to 1987, where he received a B.A. in journalism. After graduating, he went to work for the Dayton Daily News as a police and courts reporter and was soon asked to join that paper’s editorial staff. 

Morris joined the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s editorial page in October 1990. He was responsible for coverage of Cleveland city government, Ohio state government, prisons, education and children’s issues.

He began to write a twice-weekly column in 2007 that quickly became recognized for its relentless focus on the challenges facing the city and its hard-pressed residents. He has since garnered considerable national attention in journalism circles. In 2008, he received the National Headliner first place award for local interest columns on a variety of subjects. In 2010 and 2013, he was awarded first place for commentary by the National Association of Black Journalists.  In 2013, he received the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ first place award for distinguished commentary. In addition, he was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for commentary in 2010 and 2011. 

Morris was awarded a 2012 Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan, where he studied social media as a driver for social justice. He was inducted into the Cleveland Press Club Hall of Fame in 2011.

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