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Introducing Closing Keynote Speaker Shontina Vernon

by School's Out Washington | | Posted under Bridge Conference

By Jimena Quiroga Hopkins

Young people play a critical role in shaping the world and fostering positive change in society. This means young people using their voice and agency to contribute to shape the narrative of what is just. Our closing keynote speaker at this year’s Bridge Conference understands this well. 

Through her own story, which builds upon the power of intergenerational relationships, experiences with the juvenile justice system, and artistic talents that come to life as a theater artist, filmmaker, musician, and educator, Shontina Vernon has built a body of work grounded in telling the stories and elevating the voices of those most impacted by injustice. Throughout her career, she has worked to develop arts as an alternative to incarceration programs for youth, serving as mentor artist and facilitator with the Seattle based Creative Justice Program (4Culture).

At Visionary Justice StoryLab, Shontina is now bringing together artists and cultural workers in order to create new media and tools for dialogue which are centered on those most impacted by injustice. For example, one of her most recent projects, Grrrl Justice is a short narrative film exploring the pathways of girls and queer youth of color into the juvenile justice system. 

When asked about the role of young people and the adults that support young people in helping to advance racial equity in this moment, Shontina Vernon shares:

“The role of young people has been and will continue to be to energize our movements, and to continue to push the limits of public imagination until the vision of a future rooted in radical love becomes a reality. If adults are to move in lock step with young people in the struggle for liberation, they must learn to organize intergenerationally, which requires deep listening, and they must be prepared to cede power so that the next generation of young people can lead.”

We are excited and honored to have Shontina Vernon close out this year’s Bridge Conference and are eager to hear her powerful storytelling. In thinking about this year’s Bridge Conference theme, The Seeds We Sow, Shontina notes:

“The Seeds We Sow as a theme for this year's Bridge Conference really resonates with me because I believe the gains and culture shift  we are seeing around reimagining policing, public safety, and mass incarceration is the result of a rich history of organizing and activism. This is foundational to all of the movements and coalitions working together to bring about this groundswell of resistance. I'm thinking here of Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer - even the Black Panther's Free Breakfast for School Children's Program and some of the earlier collective care models. All of these started as seeds. As it often is with seeds, sometimes the changes are imperceptible, but their growth is absolutely the result of an ecosystem that draws on the health of all of its parts.”

To learn more about Shontina Vernon, read more about her in her bio or watch this video: 

More about Shontina Vernon

Writer/filmmaker/theatre artist, Shontina Vernon, works using film, multimedia, music, and performance to explore black cultural histories and subjectivities, intergenerational legacies around trauma, and queer identity. She is a 2020 Art for Justice Grantee, a Creative Capital Awardee, and a Robert Rauschenberg Artist as Activist Fellow. Vernon serves as Lead Producer of the Visionary Justice StoryLab, a film hub and collective working to evolve narratives that are rooted in liberatory frameworks. She is currently developing her first full-length feature film titled Last Kind Words, a 1930s queer blues story, and a limited episodic series centering the lives of womxn of color who have been impacted by the criminal justice system.

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