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The M Word: A Town Hall Series

PEN America’s mission is to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. The M Word series was launched in 2016 thanks to the support of the Doris Duke Foundation’s Building Bridges program. The M Word Town Hall Series focuses on centering American Muslim voices through live, in-person, and virtual conversations that bring together writers, artists, and thought leaders across a range of genres, expertise, and platforms. The conversation series was curated in collaboration with project advisors Zaheer Ali, Ayah Eldosougi, Adam Gagan, Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, and Sue Obeidi, and with partners Performing Arts Mosaic, Sapelo Square, and MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau.

The M Word Town Hall series is generously supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges program.


The PEN Pod: M Word Episode

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Tune into The PEN Pod for a special M Word conversation with the M Word Town Hall project advisors: oral historian Zaheer Ali, artistic director of Performing Arts Mosaic Adam Gagan, organizer Ayah Eldosougi, and director of MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau Sue Obeidi.

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE


M Word Town Hall: A Vision for the Future

Tuesday, June 22, 2021
8:00pm – 9:30pm ET / 5:00pm – 6:30pm PT
Live on Clubhouse

“A Vision for the Future” will explore the vision of America that emerges when we center Muslim social justice visionaries and practitioners. This audio-only town hall will take place on Clubhouse and will be moderated by Muslims & Friends hosts, social entrepreneur alex fox and Chicago-based recording artist Kayem. It will feature Ahmed Ali Akbar of the “See Something, Say Something” podcast, journalist and podcaster Malika Bilal, executive director of MuslimARC Margari Hill, and founder of Sapelo Square and author of Muslim Cool Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer. This town hall will be presented in collaboration with Muslims & Friends and Sapelo Square.

To access the event: Follow Muslims & Friends on Clubhouse to join this event.

Don’t have an account yet? Use this link to sign up and skip the waitlist! Once you’ve downloaded the app, log in from your iPhone or Android on Tuesday, June 22 to participate in the live conversation.

Moderators

alex fox headshotalex fox is a product leader, software engineer, and writer committed to building inclusive tech and community. She helps startups and social enterprises build products and teams to drive positive social change. fox is the founder of Origin of Mind, a lifestyle brand and e-commerce platform designed to raise awareness and support for critical social issues. Their latest product, Marketplace, amplifies creators of color and helps bring their businesses online. fox is currently exploring creative ways to help individuals align passion and purpose. She is passionate about racial equity and Oakland, CA.

Kayem headshotKayem is a Chicago-based recording artist and writer. His father was a Libyan revolutionary who spent five years as a political prisoner before escaping. Kayem’s first trip to Libya was filmed in the docuseries Sing Freedom. Kayem’s career was halted due to perpetual FBI surveillance and No Fly List restrictions. He detailed his experience on the “Intercepted” podcast, where he was a guest alongside Edward Snowden. He recently relaunched his career, and Yahoo! Music listed Kayem’s showcase as one of “The 6 Best Things We Saw at SXSW 2017.” Kayem is slated to release new music for the first time since the ordeal this summer.

Panelists

Ahmed Ali Akbar headshotAhmed Ali Akbar is an audio journalist and culture writer who hosts the award-winning podcast “See Something Say Something.” He has written or hosted shows for BuzzFeed News, Vox Media Podcast Network, Eater, Netflix, America’s Test Kitchen, and more. Akbar holds a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School. Twitter: @radbrowndads

Malika Bilal headshotMalika Bilal is the host of “The Take” podcast by Al Jazeera and former cohost of The Stream, a social media-driven talk show on Al Jazeera English. Bilal graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, where she studied journalism. She also attended The American University in Cairo to develop her knowledge of Arabic. She began her career in newspapers and magazines at her university, with a short stint as the person who rolls the video for television news. She spent some time at the Chicago Tribune before landing in Washington, D.C. to work for Voice of America.

Margari Hill headshotMargari Hill is the cofounder and executive director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), a human rights education organization. She is also a freelance writer published in How We Fight White Supremacy (2018), TIME, HuffPost, and Al Jazeera English. She has seven years of experience working full time in community organizations and over 15 years as an educator in various capacities, including instructor, curriculum design, school policy, teacher training, and online learning. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Santa Clara University in 2003 and a master’s in history of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006.

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer headshotDr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is a scholar-artist-activist. Her latest work, Umi’s Archive, is a multimedia project that rectifies official history through the untold stories of Black women and Black Muslims through the lens of her mother’s life. Khabeer is cofounder and senior editor of Sapelo Square, an online platform dedicated to the comprehensive documentation and analysis of the Black U.S. American Muslim experience. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States and an associate professor of American culture and Arab and Muslim American studies at the University of Michigan.


M Word Town Hall: Identity and Artistry

Thursday, June 24, 2021
8:00pm – 9:30pm ET / 5:00pm – 6:30pm PT
The Greene Space at WNYC & WQXR

44 Charlton St, New York, NY 10014

“Identity and Artistry” will feature live music, poetry performances, and a panel discussion on the power of art and storytelling. This special convening of a diverse range of artistic voices, thought leaders, and activists will be presented in person at WNYC’s The Greene Space in New York City, and will be livestreamed via Crowdcast. The panel discussion will be moderated by artist, activist, and scholar Ibrahim Bechrouri, and will include author and journalist Moustafa Bayoumi, scholar Dr. Donna Auston, executive director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Jafreen Uddin, poet Ladan Osman, and musician and social entrepreneur, Hadi Eldebek. Performer and artistic director of Performing Arts Mosaic Adam Gagan will emcee the event, featuring the poetry of Zainab Mabizari and the musical talents of The Brooklyn Nomads and Alsarah, and produced in collaboration with Performing Arts Mosaic.

WATCH HERE

Emcee

Adam Gagan headshotAdam Gagan is an actor, host, and artistic director of Performing Arts Mosaic (PAM). Inspired by a multiethnic Judeo-Christian-Islamic upbringing, Gagan’s artistic efforts aim to bring people together in celebration of creative expression by communities of color. Originally from Little Havana, Miami, Gagan moved to New York City to pursue acting and for a position with The Juilliard School. Gagan has since starred in various award-winning television series and built a vibrant and diverse community through PAM.

Moderator

Ibrahim Bechrouri headshotIbrahim Bechrouri is an artist, activist, and scholar of Moroccan origin. His ethnographic fieldwork and experience as a Muslim and activist greatly influences his poetry. Bechrouri has worked with Um’Artist in Paris and with Performing Arts Mosaic in New York City. He has performed poetry in Europe and the United States, including on the French television program Flash Talk, at the Muslim Writers Collective, and for Usbek & Rica’s Le Tribunal pour les Générations Futures (Tribunal for Future Generations). He has served as a judge for a number of poetry, comedy, and public speaking competitions. After completing his Ph.D., Bechrouri hopes to dedicate time to writing fiction. 

Panelists and Artists

Moustafa Bayoumi headshotMoustafa Bayoumi is a professor of English at Brooklyn College. He is the author of the critically acclaimed How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, which won an American Book Award and the Arab American Book Award for nonfiction. His book, This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror, was chosen as a Best Book of 2015 by The Progressive magazine and also awarded the Arab American Book Award for nonfiction. Bayoumi is also a columnist at The Guardian, and his writing has appeared in leading newspapers and magazines around the world.

Ladan Osman headshotLadan Osman is the author of Exiles of Eden, winner of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and The Kitchen-Dweller’s Testimony, winner of the Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poetry. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, the Lannan Foundation, and the Michener Center for Writers. Her work in film includes Sam, Underground; Sun of the Soil; and The Ascendants. She is a 2021 Whiting Award honoree and lives in New York.

Jafreen Uddin headshotJafreen Uddin was appointed executive director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop in January 2020. She is the first woman to lead the organization since its founding in 1991. With over a decade of experience working in the public sector, she specializes in communications, education, and fundraising.

She most recently served as deputy director of development for special events with PEN America, managing a high-level portfolio of events and cultivation activities. Prior to joining PEN America, she helped oversee executive education as an assistant director with the NYU Stern School of Business, developing and coordinating both degree and non-degree programming for cohorts of senior-level executives. She began her career with a nearly eight-year stint at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, where she helped create the infrastructure for the public programming calendar of events, and spent nearly three years managing an online book salon for Aslan Media, spotlighting writers and artists from the greater Middle East/South Asia region.

Donna Auston headshotDr. Donna Auston is an anthropologist, writer, and activist whose body of work focuses primarily on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, media representation, and Islam in America. Her dissertation research explores Black Muslim activism and spiritual protest in the post-Ferguson, Black Lives Matter era. Some of her other written work includes book chapters on the historical contributions of African American Muslims in the arts, culture, and social justice movements, and the connections between Islamophobia and Black Lives Matter. Auston has also published works on Black Islam and U.S. politics, as well as a number of short essays on the lived experiences of Black Muslims with anti-Black racism, state surveillance, law enforcement profiling, and Islamophobia. In addition, she has regularly served as consultant and advisor for a number of initiatives, including the Center for Brooklyn History’s Muslims in Brooklyn oral history project. Her work has been covered by national news outlets, including NBC News and HuffPost, and appears in recent documentary projects on the Black church and  Muhammad Ali, produced by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Ken Burns, respectively.

Alsarah headshotAlsarah is a singer, songwriter, bandleader, and a somewhat reluctant ethnomusicologist. Born in Khartoum, Sudan, she relocated to Yemen with her family before abruptly moving to the United States, finally feeling most at home in Brooklyn, NY, where she has been residing since 2004. She is a self-proclaimed practitioner of East African retro pop music. Working on various projects, she has toured both nationally and internationally. With her main outfit, Alsarah & the Nubatones, she has released two full-length albums: Silt, followed by Manara (Wonderwheel Recordings, 2014 and 2016). She has also released a full-length album with French electronic producer Débruit titled Aljawal (Soundways Records, 2013). She was featured on The Nile Project‘s debut CD, Aswan (named in the top five must hear international albums by NPR in 2014). Photo Credit: Waleed Shah

Hadi Eldebek headshotHadi Eldebek is a musician and cultural entrepreneur based in New York City. He has collaborated with prominent figures and institutions in the arts, culture, and education sectors, including Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad Ensemble, Harvard Graduate School of Education, The Kennedy Center, TED, Walt Disney Imagineering, and others. Eldebek is the artistic director of The Brooklyn Nomads, a cross-cultural band rooted in Arabic music traditions. He also co-founded several cultural startups, including GrantPA, a tool for artists to find grants and other opportunities, and Circle World Arts, a platform to learn about the world arts. His TED talk, discussing the importance of funding the arts and artists, has gone viral with over 1.3 million views.

The Brooklyn Nomads performingThe Brooklyn Nomads is a collective of musicians from different cultural and stylistic backgrounds that came together in 2014. They are from Lebanon, Germany, Sudan, Turkey, Iran, the United States, Albania, and other countries. With roots in Middle Eastern and Arabic music traditions, their music includes global styles like flamenco, jazz, Balkan, bluegrass, North and East African, European classical, and more.

Zainab Mabizari headshot

Zainab Mabizari  is a writer, poet, and physician of Algerian descent who shares her experiences at the crossroads of medicine and humanities. She received her master’s in narrative medicine at Columbia University and is currently completing a social justice-focused internal medicine residency at Montefiore. She has completed a Doximity Op-Med fellowship and will be serving as the 2021 American Medical Women Association’s Artist in Residence. You can find her words and poetry in publications like TEDx and the Intima.


M Word Town Hall: The Power and Politics of Pop Culture

Friday, June 25, 2021
9:00pm ET / 6:00pm PT
Live on Crowdcast

“The Power and Politics of Pop Culture” will explore who holds the power to change harmful and limited representations in popular culture and how Muslim creatives and their allies are changing the game. This virtual town hall-style event will be moderated by oral historian and educator Zaheer Ali and will feature founder of The Black List Franklin Leonard, multidisciplinary artist and cofounder of Boomgen Studios Mahyad Tousi, MuslimARC executive director Margari Hill, historian and journalist Maytha Alhassen, and MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau director Sue Obeidi. This event will be produced in collaboration with Sapelo Square and MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau.

WATCH HERE

Moderator

Zaheer Ali headshotZaheer Ali is an oral historian and educator with over a decade of experience directing nationally recognized cultural heritage initiatives. He directed the Brooklyn Historical Society’s award-winning Muslims in Brooklyn public history and arts initiative, and he was a lead researcher for Manning Marable’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on Malcolm X. A 2020-2021 Open Society Foundations Soros Equality Fellow and 2020 Pillars Fund Muslim Narrative Change Fellow, he is presently the history editor at Sapelo Square: An Online Resource on Black Muslims in the U.S. and an executive producer of American Muslims: A History Revealed, a shortform film series and feature-length documentary currently in production. Photo Credit: Carlos Khalil Guzman

Panelists

Franklin Leonard headshotFranklin Leonard is a film and television producer, cultural commentator, and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of The Black List, the company that celebrates and supports great screenwriting and the writers who do it. He’s been one of Black Enterprise magazine’s 40 Emerging Leaders for Our Future and Fast Company’s 100 Most Creative People in Business. He received the 2019 Evelyn F. Burkey Award from the Writers Guild of America, East for ”recognizing a person or organization whose contributions have brought honor and dignity to writers.” He is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a member of BAFTA and the Academy.

Mahyad Tousi headshotMahyad Tousi is a multidisciplinary artist and cofounder of BoomGen Studios, the premier incubator and pipeline for entertainment content about the peoples, myths, and cultures of the Greater Middle East. In 2020, he founded Starfish—a first-of-its-kind, creative IP accelerator investing in proven BIPOC artists. His own work has spanned across mediums, genres, and platforms, ranging from contemporary art to television to Hollywood blockbusters. In addition to executive producing United States of Al, the hit CBS primetime comedy, he is currently writing and producing 1001 with PICTURESTART, and writing and co-directing Remote with video artist Mika Rottenberg. Tousi is a featured artist in K21. He sits on the advisory board of the MIT Center for Advanced Virtuality and speaks internationally on the convergence of the arts and social impact. Photo Credit: Michael E. Mason

Margari Hill headshotMargari Hill is the cofounder and executive director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), a human rights education organization. She is also a freelance writer published in How We Fight White Supremacy (2018), TIME, HuffPost, and Al Jazeera English. She has seven years of experience working full time in community organizations and over 15 years as an educator in various capacities, including instructor, curriculum design, school policy, teacher training, and online learning. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from Santa Clara University in 2003 and a master’s in history of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006.

Dr. Maytha Alhassen headshot

Dr. Maytha Alhassen primarily sees her labor as that of a freedom doula and an engaged wit/h/ness reviving the traditions of the feral femme. She is a historian, journalist, poet, organizer, and mending practitioner. As a journalist, she worked as an on-air host for Al Jazeera English and The Young Turks, in addition to field reporting for outlets such as CNN, HuffPost, Mic, Boston Review, The Baffler, and CounterPunch. In 2017, she received her Ph.D. in American studies and ethnicity from the University of Southern California and gave a TED Talk poem on her ancestral relationship to Syria as part of an awarded TED Residency. As a scholar, she co-edited a book on the Arab uprisings, Demanding Dignity: Young Voices from the Front Lines of the Arab Revolutions, and wrote Haqq and Hollywood: Illuminating 100 Years of Muslim Tropes and How to Transform Them. Alhassen has helped launch multiple social justice organizations including Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, Believers Bail Out, and the Arabs for Black Lives collective, and facilitates healing workshops for displaced people and those in fugitive spaces. Currently, Alhassen produces and writes for the Golden Globe and Peabody Award-winning Hulu series Ramy, serves as an executive producer for the upcoming docuseries American Muslims: A History Revealed, was named a Pluralist Visionary by Pop Culture Collaborative, and will be a Harvard Religion and Public Life, Media and Entertainment Fellow starting in fall 2021.

Sue Obeidi headshotSue Obeidi is the director of MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau. Behind the scenes, Obeidi engages decision-makers and creatives to improve the quality and number of authentic, nuanced, and inclusive presentations of Islam and Muslims so that audiences can see Muslims as vital contributors to creating social and cultural change in America and around the world. She and her team do this by consulting on television and film projects, connecting American-Muslim screenwriters to the industry and contributing thought leadership through organizing and speaking on panels, organizing screenwriting panels, and writing and publishing guest columns in the trades.


Advisors

Zaheer Ali headshotZaheer Ali is an oral historian and educator with over a decade of experience directing nationally recognized cultural heritage initiatives. He directed the Brooklyn Historical Society’s award-winning Muslims in Brooklyn public history and arts initiative, and he was a lead researcher for Manning Marable’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on Malcolm X. A 2020-2021 Open Society Foundations Soros Equality Fellow and 2020 Pillars Fund Muslim Narrative Change Fellow, he is presently the history editor at Sapelo Square: An Online Resource on Black Muslims in the U.S. and an executive producer of American Muslims: A History Revealed, a shortform film series and feature-length documentary currently in production. Photo Credit: Carlos Khalil Guzman

Ayah Eldosougi headshotA Sudanese, Jamaican, American born in Brooklyn, Ayah Eldosougi is a grant writer and organizer at Performing Arts Mosaic, a community-led nonprofit aimed at centering marginalized artists. She was an organizer of The Muslim Protagonist literary symposium and has moderated and participated in a number of talks on topics from East African women in poetry, traveling while Muslim, to sexual assault on college campuses. Eldosougi earned her undergraduate degree in human rights from Columbia University and is a forthcoming J. D. candidate at Georgetown University Law Center.

Adam Gagan headshotAdam Gagan is an actor, host, and artistic director of Performing Arts Mosaic (PAM). Inspired by a multiethnic Judeo-Christian-Islamic upbringing, Gagan’s artistic efforts aim to bring people together in celebration of creative expression by communities of color. Originally from Little Havana, Miami, Gagan moved to New York City to pursue acting and for a position with The Juilliard School. Gagan has since starred in various award-winning television series and built a vibrant and diverse community through PAM.

Sue Obeidi headshotSue Obeidi is the director of MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau. Behind the scenes, Obeidi engages decision-makers and creatives to improve the quality and number of authentic, nuanced, and inclusive presentations of Islam and Muslims so that audiences can see Muslims as vital contributors to creating social and cultural change in America and around the world. She and her team do this by consulting on television and film projects, connecting American-Muslim screenwriters to the industry and contributing thought leadership through organizing and speaking on panels, organizing screenwriting panels, and writing and publishing guest columns in the trades.

Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer headshotDr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer is a scholar-artist-activist. Her latest work, Umi’s Archive, is a multimedia project that rectifies official history through the untold stories of Black women and Black Muslims through the lens of her mother’s life. Khabeer is cofounder and senior editor of Sapelo Square, an online platform dedicated to the comprehensive documentation and analysis of the Black U.S. American Muslim experience. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Muslim Cool: Race, Religion and Hip Hop in the United States and an associate professor of American culture and Arab and Muslim American studies at the University of Michigan.


The M Word Town Hall series is presented as part of the 2021 PEN World Voices Festival: Power to the People.

“PEN America World Voices Festival” logo and “Power to the People” (pink font) on top of blue background

 

Sponsors

The M Word Town Hall Series is generously supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges Program.

The Building Bridges Program is the grant-making arm of the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA), which is an extension of the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF). Based in New York, the Building Bridges Program supports national efforts to advance relationships, increase understanding, and reduce bias between Muslim and non-Muslim communities. For more information, please visit ddcf.org/what-we-fund/building-bridges.

 

Partners

Muslims & Friends is the largest faith group on Clubhouse, with over 90,000 members across the world. The group hosts conversations around faith, identity, and justice—creating space and opportunity to share knowledge, inspiration, and communal support.

Sapelo Square: An Online Resource on Black Muslims in the United States is an award-winning online platform. Our mission is to create new understandings of who Black American Muslims are and why that matters. Sapelo was established in May 2015 in commemoration of the birthday of El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz/Malcolm X, and in that spirit, we invite audiences to learn about and learn from the Black Muslim community in the United States—a community that has historically been at the forefront championing social justice principles. We leverage this legacy of social justice organizing and activism in our platform through education, social critique, and civic engagement.

Based in Los Angeles, MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau changes the narrative of Islam and Muslims in the entertainment industry so that audiences see Muslims as vital contributors to creating social and cultural change in America and around the world.

Performing Arts Mosaic (PAM) is an artist-driven nonprofit dedicated to deepening connection and understanding across diverse communities while increasing the visibility of underrepresented artists and art forms.

Sapelo Square logo

Belarusian protesters in background; on top: “I Support PEN Belarus” and PEN America logo

Our sister organization PEN Belarus has spent years uplifting writers and supporting the freedom to write. Now, the government is trying to shut them down. Show your support and tell them they’re not alone.

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