2020 Emerging Creatives Student Summit


The 2020 Emerging Creatives theme was RISE UP! Risk Something Real.

From the neighborhoods to our collective memory, civic unrest has shaped Cincinnati in many ways. As host of the 2020 a2ru Emerging Creatives Student Summit, we dove into Cincinnati’s long history of civic unrest and used our insights as a springboard to meaningful dialogue and the development of creative calls to action against social injustice and inequality. The UC Summit drew on UC’s strengths in the creative & performing arts, humanities, and science, technology, engineering, and medicine as well as our urban location to inform, inspire, and compel students around the nation to rise up in the name of peace and justice.

2020 a2ru Emerging Creatives Student Summit Promo from a2ru on Vimeo.

Featured Speakers

Chuck D.
Founder of Public Enemy
Chuck D.
Founder of Public Enemy

As the founder of Public Enemy, Chuck D. is one of the most colossal figures in the history of hip-hop, not to mention its most respected intellectual. He redefined hip-hop as music with a message, and his strident radicalism ushered in an era when rap was closely scrutinized for its content; although rap’s primary concerns have changed over the years, its status as America’s most controversial art form has only gotten stronger since Public Enemy hit the scene. Chuck D. was born Carlton Douglas Ridenhour in Roosevelt, Long Island, on August 1, 1960. His parents were both political activists, and he was a highly intelligent student, turning down an architecture scholarship to study graphic design at Long Island’s Adelphi University. While in school, he put his talents to use making promotional flyers for hip-hop events, and went on to co-host a hip-hop mix show on the campus radio station with two future Public Enemy cohorts, Bill Stephney and Hank Shocklee. Under the name Chuckie D, he rapped on Shocklee‘s demo recording, “Public Enemy No. 1,” which caught the interest of Rick Rubin at Def Jam. In response, the now simply named Chuck D. assembled Public Enemy, a group designed to support the force of his rhetoric with noisy, nearly avant-garde soundscapes.

Nikki M. Taylor
Professor and Department Chair of History at Howard University
Nikki M. Taylor
Professor and Department Chair of History at Howard University

Nikki M. Taylor, Professor and Department Chair of History at Howard University , specializes in 19th century African American History. Her sub-specialties are in Urban, African American Women, and Intellectual History. Educated at the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and Duke University (MA, PhD, Certificate in Women’s Studies), Dr. Taylor has won several fellowships including Fulbright, Social Science Research Council, and Woodrow Wilson.

Dr. Nikki Taylor has written three monographs. Her first book, Frontiers of Freedom: Cincinnati’s Black Community 1802-68 (2005) uses the backdrop of one of the nineteenth-century’s most racist American cities to chart the emergence of a very conscientious black community–a community of people who employed various tactics such as black nationalism, emigration, legislative agitation, political alliances, self-education, and even armed self-defense to carve out a space for themselves as free people living in the shadow of slavery.

Professor Taylor’s second book, America’s First Black Socialist: The Radical Life of Peter H. Clark (2013), is a political and intellectual biography of one of the foremost African American activists, intellectuals, orators, and politicians in the nineteenth-century century, whose name once was spoken in the same breath as Frederick Douglass, Dr. McCune Smith, and John Mercer Langston. This book charts Clark’s journey from recommending that slaveholders be sent to “hospitable graves,” to advocating for a separate black nation, to forging alliances with German socialists and labor radicals, to adopting the conservative mantle of the Democratic Party.

Driven Toward Madness: The Fugitive Slave Margaret Garner and Tragedy on the Ohio (2016) is Dr. Taylor’s third monograph. This book is a biography of Margaret Garner, an enslaved wife and mother who, along with her entire family, escaped from slavery in northern Kentucky in 1856. When their owners caught up with the Garner family, Margaret tried to kill all four of her children–and succeeded in killing one–rather than see them return to slavery. Using black feminist and interdisciplinary methodologies, this book examines why this fated act was the last best option for her as an enslaved mother. Dr. Taylor’s current research project is on women who participated in armed slave revolts.

Jamil Jivani
Lawyer, Community Organizer, and Teacher
Jamil Jivani
Lawyer, Community Organizer, and Teacher

Jamil Jivani tackles some of the biggest challenges in the world as a lawyer, community organizer, and teacher. With research and teaching appointments at Yale Law School and Osgoode Hall Law School, Jamil focuses on issues that impact youth, immigrants, and low-income families. He is also the founder of the Citizen Empowerment Project, a public education organization leading initiatives related to policing, racial profiling, democratic participation, voter turnout and economic development.

Jamil’s change leadership is informed by his personal journey of empowerment from being a failing high school student and working as a dishwasher, to attending the most exclusive law school in the world. Coming from a single parent household, as a youth he nearly fell into many of the traps that send young men on a detour away from success. It is this experience that propelled him into activism, focusing on issues such as bridging the gap between police and communities, overcoming the radicalization of youth, and encouraging young people to achieve success. His TEDx Toronto talk, How Racial Profiling Hurts Everyone, Including the Police, has been viewed over 110,000 times.

Jamil is the director of law and policy at Our Ohio Renewal, a nonprofit organization founded to develop solutions to the issues raised in J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy. He has also served as Vice Chair of the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, and has  volunteered with youth organizations in Kenya, Egypt, and Belgium.

Jamil’s work in disadvantaged neighborhoods in North America and Europe has led him to appear on BBC, CBC, CTV and TVO. His writing has been published by The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post and Huffington Post.

Jamil graduated from Yale Law School in 2013, and formerly served as President of the Yale Black Law Students Association. While at Yale, Jamil worked for Senator Cory Booker in New Jersey, as a Connecticut high school teacher, and as a Manhattan corporate lawyer. Since graduating, he has practiced corporate law in Toronto at Torys LLP, and was named the 2015 Young Lawyer of the Year by the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers. He was also a 2016 recipient of th eThompson Reuters’ Lexpert Zenith Award for Diversity and Inclusion.

Jamil’s first book, Why Young Men, was published in April, 2018.

Partner Organizations


Where street art meets street smart, Elementz is an urban oasis of hope and a catalyst of change for Cincinnati’s inner-city youth. What began as a way to get kids off the streets in 2001 has transformed into a thriving Urban Arts Center that fosters talent, ignites potential and inspires possibilities. Elementz helps build dreams, and brighter futures. Their Vision for Cincinnati’s inner-city youth is “to be a catalyst of transformation for children in the urban core, enabling them to find their artistic voice, engage in community, learn to give back, and carve a path for a successful future”. Elementz was founded and is supported by community stakeholders – from various ethnicities, backgrounds and careers – who believe in Cincinnati’s youth, and the power of music, poetry and art to positively impact our youth. Included are artists, teachers and mentors who encourage self-discovery, creative expression and individual passion. Because of wide community support, they give kids the respect and support they need to believe in themselves and in their community.

St. Vincent Depaul

The Cincinnati Poverty Simulation challenges participants to walk in the shoes of our neighbors in need –  to explore poverty experientially. Our objective is to help people in our community better understand the realities of living in poverty, to grow in solidarity and to take action on behalf of our neighbors in need.

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company

Rooted in the African American experience, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company is a culturally diverse contemporary dance company committed to reaching the broadest audience through exceptional performance and arts-integrated education.

Contemporary Arts Center

Navigating contemporary culture for communities near and far. Art and the creative process belong to all people. The Contemporary Arts Center provides experiences through exhibitions and performances as well as educational and outreach programs, to engage and interact with the art, artists, and ideas of our time. Working with our regional community of visitors, patrons, and partners, and with our global community of artists and institutions, we explore and celebrate the unfolding landscape of art and expression.


Starfire is a visionary organization working to build better lives for people with disabilities. Since 1993, Starfire has worked to create a more inclusive Cincinnati. Starfire is focused on decreasing the social isolation felt by people with disabilities. The data is clear; people with disabilities grow increasingly lonely and isolated as adults. Working with one person at a time, Starfire connects people to relationships and uncovers a person’s talents and passions – so they can thrive in their communities alongside their neighbors.

Student Testimonials

Emily Beaver, Virginia Tech:
I attended the 2020 a2ru student summit in Cincinnati, Ohio. The theme Rise Up! Risk Something Real spoke to me on a personal level. The various workshops and exercises were an amazing eye opening experience that really let me view the world with fresh eyes and brought forth a new vocabulary that I can use when traversing throughout the remainder of my life. I particularly enjoyed all of the key speakers and the insight they brought to the table. I am a team player at heart and loved getting to work with a dynamic group of people in order to breathe life into a project in such a short amount of time. Overall I loved the experiences I gained at the a2ru event and I am so thankful for my opportunity to attend.
Erik Harvey, Virginia Tech:
I had an inspiring experience at the a2ru conference in Cincinnati. I had the opportunity to network with students and professors from all over the US and beyond. The personalities of the other attendees were ecstatic and motivational to see others' passions similar to mine.

The range of speakers and presentations covered several topics including: chants, dance, art, history and its connection to social justice. The speakers were all engaging and inspiring with what they shared. The interactive seminars were eye opening on how to better understand underserved community members.

We received a prompt to design our own social justice project and had the opportunity to receive feedback from local social justice advocacy, educators, and from our peers. The project helped me realize how attainable initiating change at a local level is for a student aspiring to assist in social justice.

Brian Hollander, University of Nevada Las Vegas:
I am a Costume Design MFA candidate at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. I was honored to be nominated to attend the 2020 A2RU Emerging Creatives Student Summit in Cincinnati Ohio. Myself and three other students from UNLV participated in the summit this year.

We were unsure of the details of the summit but by the end really enjoyed our experiences and all the wonderful interdisciplinary collaboration and connections made. I really enjoyed my time connecting and sharing stories with the other attendees especially with the vast differences we all brought to the summit.

The sessions were mind provoking and eye opening. Cincinnati was a great choice especially with the city being in cultural turmoil. We had the opportunity to see what Cincinnati brought to the art scene. We visited the Cincinnati Art Museum, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Washington Park, Memorial Hall, and tons of art murals around the city.

Thank you so much for this wonderful opportunity!

Alex McClay, University of Georgia
I’m a graduate student at University of Georgia seeking my Master of Fine Art in Studio Art. I attended University of Cincinnati as an undergraduate, so I was so excited to come back and experience the city I love and grew up in via the a2ru Emerging Creatives Summit.

My experience in Cincinnati, although I lived there for 15 years, is limited, and I learned so much through the speakers and workshops that a2ru provided. I was especially moved by Dr. Nikki Taylor’s poignant keynote speech about the history of Cincinnati, as well as Dr. Khristopher Holland and Nandita Sheth’s workshop called The Risky Business of Art and Aesthetics. I started thinking a lot about what I knew and what I didn’t know and my access to certain information.

These questions spilled over into the project my group and I created, which was called Civil Dissensus: an open source guide to site specific stories. In it, we focused on the idea of decentralizing information, history, and personal experiences. We wanted to encourage and entice people to access the archive as well as participate in it. Our project asked participants to make their own site specific DIY Markers and place them out in the world, and then share their story and their marker location with us. We would then put it on an open source website. By making information more public (by putting it physically out in the world with these guerrilla markers), we hope to encourage knowledge, empathy, and collective understanding about where we physically stand in the world.

Molly Redfield, University of Nevada Las Vegas:
The 2020 a2ru summit was an astounding experience. Each lecture offered different representations of social justice through art research from community art collaborations to documenting untold histories. Additionally, the workshops gave personal insight into the experiences of different communities such as, African Americans, people with disabilities, transgender individuals and women.

The most impactful discussions I had at the summit were around the dinner table. Collectively, we would reflect upon the days lectures and workshops and discuss how to implement these topics into our own research and art. Because each person varied in discipline, academic level and background, my eyes were opened to new and innovative ways of representing social justice in my own research.

Our assigned group was inspired and invigorated by these dinner discussions. We wanted to share this experience with our peers, so our final project invited the audience to our dinner table through live performance. By using a tweet showing the negative rhetoric toward young diverse women who speak up, we reflected the unique quality of our group, an all-female group from a multitude of backgrounds and cultures in our project.

I am humbled by this experience and inspired to continue my research into oppressed communities.

Nawjat Rehman, University of Michigan:
I was thrilled to be part of the team representing U-M at the 2020 a2ru Emerging Creatives Student Summit in Cincinnati and looked forward to being inspired by the work happening at the intersection of various fields.

From the outset, the summit was decidedly different from ‘traditional’ conferences. The first keynote, by Chuck D, set the tone for the summit, making it clear that there will be no shying away from complex issues and difficult conversations. The following days were filled with workshops and talks that dealt with a wide variety of topics in incredibly diverse and engaging ways. I was particularly inspired by the poverty simulation and the protest songs workshop. With my graduate coursework, focusing on the role of design in solving issues of equity and social justice, I found these approaches of dealing with intractable issues highly inspiring.

While the Summit was filled with numerous memorable experiences, the most important highlight for me was our group’s performance on the final day. Titled ‘Frames’, we turned our creative process of the previous two days into a dramatized conversation in front of the audience, exploring issues of integrity, ethics, and teamwork in research practice. I feel that ours was the ideal a2ru team – with a photographer, a jewelry designer, a civil engineer, a transdisciplinary designer (me) and an actor. We were able to work together, leveraging our diverse experiences and learning from each other, in order to arrive at a project outcome that none of us could have achieved alone.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to participate in this wonderful event!

Abigail Rickabaugh, Kent State University:
I study Studio Arts with a concentration in Fine Art Photography and Print Media, with a minor in Photo-Illustration. For a weekend I traveled to Cincinnati with a few other students to attend the 2020 A2RU emerging creatives conference.

I have been to Cincinnati many times before to visit family, but I experienced the city in a whole new light during these four days. I learned of the history and racial background of the city through lectures, museums, and creative workshops. It was surprising how quickly I became such great friends with the people in my small group. We were five strangers to each other and left with five new amazing friends. It is interesting that when you are forced to talk about such deep topics in such a short period of time it really pushes you to think of these concepts in a unique way.

In our project, my group decided to talk about the homelessness and how to resolve that crisis. Something that really impacted me as an artist was pushing myself conceptually and thinking about topics I would usually stray away from. I was pushed to incorporate social justice in my art, and this gave me a new appreciation for art. It was then I realized I could create pieces to help make a difference in the world. I look forward to incorporating these topics in my photography and other art. I am so glad I was able to have this experience and I hope to be able to attend again in the future!

Duncan Slagle, University of Wisconsin-Madison:
Attending the 2020 a2ru Emerging Creatives Student Summit, hosted by University of Cincinnati in Cincinnati, OH presented many opportunities to engage with the rich history of the summit city, as well as the work of activists in contemporary Ohio who aim to create social change inspired by this history.

Chuck D and Dr. Nikki Taylor greatly inspired the project my working group eventually presented, with both of these presenters (re)contextualization of “History” as it relates to social change and civil unrest offering the conceptual framework for our project. As a mix of people familiar with Cincinnati and totally new to the city, my working group wanted to broadcast the history and displacement of communities victimized by gentrification in a hyper-public way. We decided on a guerrilla-style approach to art installation, combined with historical journalism, and settled on presenting mockups of various art pieces during the presentations. We felt this would weave together themes of history, place, and community action with brevity and maximal emotional impact.

The whole summit was packed with invigorating knowledge and time to connect with other creatives, and aside from the project my group and I presented, I am thrilled to be leaving Cincinnati with new friends, peers, and comrades. I am so grateful for the deeply transformative work I was witness to during the summit, and have left Cincinnati with heightened momentum to continue the work I do in my own communities.

Alex Williams, University of Kansas:
The Emerging Creatives Student Summit in February 2020 was my first experience at a truly interdisciplinary conference. The focus on arts, research & collaboration directly relates to my reflexive community research & art projects at home. I regularly operate within local organizations & value the group collaboration encouraged at the Summit. It felt like an extension of the work I already love- with the bonus of meeting incredible scholars also working in similar ways elsewhere.

At many research institutions, there are barriers to interdisciplinary work, & even barriers to meaningful engagement with scholars outside of your field. This Summit enabled me to converse with others over the course of several days. In those few days, I feel like I’ve talked to more students outside of my field than in my entire graduate career. As a Native student with a differing worldview based in interconnectedness & iterative processes, this was a very equitable, rewarding experience. I so glad my schedule & funding worked out to include me at the Summit.

My favorite workshop was the TransOhio session. My next favorites may have been the “Art as Social Commentary” & Nikki Taylor’s presentations. I also really loved listening to Chuck D. He was generous enough to give me an autograph & talk to me afterwards!

Lastly, it was so empowering to get out of Kansas for a while. My grad programs, jobs, community work & family keep me very busy, I don’t have the ability to travel often. I have a lot of big ideas Kansas isn’t conducive towards. At the “Art as Social Commentary” presentation, & even as I walked around the city, there were many murals containing people of color. Two years ago, my own city had trouble approving a mural exclusively featuring women of color. While these other murals likely had their own challenges, it was still a very eye-opening experience seeing how many intercultural murals there are in what could be considered the Midwest. It was nice to go where no one knew me, too. I’m involved in fairly radical work, & not having to look over my shoulder for a couple days was amazing. Thank you so much for having me.

Ray Yang, Kent State University:
I am a Senior Engineering Technology major at Kent State University. However, I graduated from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ High School program for music performance.

A2ru’s February summit in Cincinnati provided me an opportunity to further develop and explore a part of me that I thought I had left behind in North Carolina.

Through A2ru, I was able to connect with other creative students to address social injustices in today’s society. In Cincinnati, we were met with several workshops and keynote presentations discussing social injustices based on Race, Wealth, Marginalization, and Sexuality.

As a student of engineering, I did not receive prior exposure to most of the subject matter outside of the news, and personal injustices. Through the workshops, I was exposed to situations and concepts that made me uncomfortable and left me uncertain about my place in society.

However, that is exactly what I needed. I needed to be exposed to injustice, to homelessness, to poverty. One cannot go through their whole life unaware of the history of their home, or the issues that others face. Through discussions, keynotes, and the work I did with my group, I was forced to face the reality we live in – and was able to express my concern by working with people I had not expected to cooperate with. By some magic coincidence, I was even reconnected to a fellow UNCSA alumni.

While I still do not have a firm grasp on how to use my creative talent for good, I believe that my work here is opening a new chapter in my life. I’d like to thank a2ru for the eye-opening opportunity.