Type: Public event

Masterclass in Activism, fall 2022

Center for Racial Justice Changemakers in conversation with Dean Watkins-Hayes


Holly Bass, Niketa Brar, Gabrielle Wyatt

Date & time

Nov 3, 2022, 4:00-5:30 pm EDT


Weill Hall, Annenberg Auditorium, Rm. 1120
735 S. State Street

The Center for Racial Justice welcomes the inaugural cohort of Center for Racial Justice Changemakers—Holly Bass, performance artist; Niketa Brar, founder of Chicago United for Equity; and Gabrielle Wyatt, founder of The Highland Project—to the Ford School and the University of Michigan. Changemakers will be in conversation with Dr. Celeste Watkins-Hayes, Ford School Dean and founding director of the Center for Racial Justice, to share more about their work within the racial justice landscape and their journeys into activism. Reception to follow in the Great Hall.

Meet the Center for Racial Justice Changemakers

Holly Bass is a multidisciplinary performance and visual artist, writer and director. Her work has been presented at spaces such as the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Museums, the Seattle Art Museum, Art Basel Miami Beach (Project Miami Fair) and the South African State Theatre. Her visual art work includes photography, installation, video and performance and can be found in the collections of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the DC Art Bank, as well as private collections. A Cave Canem fellow, she has published poems in numerous journals and anthologies. She studied modern dance (under Viola Farber) and creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College before earning her Master’s from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. As an arts journalist early in her career, she was the first to put the term “hip hop theater” into print in American Theatre magazine. She has received numerous grants from the DC Arts Commission and was a 2019 Red Bull Detroit artist-in-residence and a 2019 Dance/USA Artist Fellow. She is a 2020-2022 Live Feed resident artist at New York Live Arts and a 2021-22 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow. A gifted and dedicated teaching artist, she directed a year-round creative writing and performance program for adjudicated youth in DC’s Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services for four years as well as facilitating workshops nationally and internationally. She is currently the national director for Turnaround Arts at the Kennedy Center, a program which uses the arts strategically to transform schools facing severe inequities.

Niketa Brar is a policy strategist, activist, and organizer working to grow the community-led policymaking movement in Chicago. In her role as co-founder and executive director of Chicago United for Equity, she works to transform civic systems to be designed by the communities they serve. She organized Chicago's first public Racial Equity Impact Assessment, a community process that set national precedent for stopping a school closure on the grounds of racial discrimination, designed the Vote Equity Project, an award-winning citywide voter guide built by thousands of residents, and co-created the People's Budget Chicago, a popular education model and community budgeting process. Niketa's approach comes from her experience working in communities harmed by top-down and ineffective public policy, which she observed working in the criminal punishment and public education systems, as well as advising government leaders in school districts, city government, and state agencies. She is a proud alum of the Ford School of Public Policy, where she earned her Masters in Public Policy and also holds a Bachelors of Arts in Public Policy and International Affairs from George Washington University and a Masters of Arts in Teaching Secondary Mathematics from American University. 

Gabrielle Wyatt founded The Highland Project in October 2020, an organization focused on building and sustaining a pipeline of Black women leading communities, institutions, and systems, resulting in the creation of multi-generational wealth and change in their communities. Prior to founding The Highland Project, Gabrielle led major change initiatives in our nation’s largest and most complex school systems and shaped the investment strategy of leading national philanthropic initiatives. Most recently, she was a Partner at The City Fund, founded by leading national philanthropists to support local education leaders to build local movements for systemic change in education. Gabrielle supported local education leaders across the nation to expand opportunities for students in public schools through strategic advising, board service, and philanthropic investments. During her tenure, Wyatt launched the City Leadership Fellowship, an executive leadership development program focused on empowering Black and Latinx leaders pursuing bold education visions. Before joining The City Fund, Gabrielle was the Chief Strategy Officer at Civic Builders. A non-profit focused on solving the facilities challenge for high quality charter schools. Gabrielle led partnerships with the Walton Family Foundation and Laura and John Arnold Foundation to launch three national facilities funds to support growing high performing public schools. Gabrielle is the former Executive Director of Strategy for Newark Public Schools, New Jersey's largest school district. She led the district's efforts to increase access to high-quality public schools, enrollment, and financial strategy. As a result of the district's focus on increasing students' opportunities in public schools, a recent study by CREDO at Stanford found Newark students are posting learning gains that outpace the state’s best-in-the-nation public school system. Previously, Gabrielle was the Associate Director of Portfolio Planning at the NYCDOE. As a Baltimore native, Gabrielle began her career as a Baltimore County Public Schools Board of Education member. Gabrielle is a graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the Harvard Kennedy School. Gabrielle Wyatt is the proud daughter of two Baltimore educators, Mary Alice Thomas and Quentin Wyatt.

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