Transformative Teaching Artist Award

New Sun Rising is pleased to announce the awardees of the Transformative Teaching Artist Awards. These awards are made possible through the generous support of The Heinz Endowments. The goal of this initiative is to move toward a more Just Pittsburgh by invigorating the field of teaching artists & arts organizations that have a demonstrated practice of challenging structural inequities, bringing transformative arts centered experience to youth in and from African American & distressedcommunities. (“Distressed” communities were defined based on information from the Allegheny County Health Department.)

All 31 applicants who were considered have an extensive track record of combining artistic skill & the complementary skills of an educator. The selection committee consisted of peer artists who determined the 10 finalists after a thorough review and discussion of their skills, eligibility & dedication.

The 10 award recipients will each receive a cash award of $5,000, and the opportunity for an additional $1,000 on June 24th. These awards are recognition awards which may be used in any way the recipient deems fit.

The Transformative Teaching Artist Awards add validation, strengthen networks & increase visibility for the artists who choose to do this important work. It is our hope that these recognition awards can play a part in acknowledging teaching artistry as an impactful & recognized profession.

Congratulations to the Transformative Teaching Artist Award Recipients:

Bekezela Mguni

Since helping to bring a Freedom School Site to the students of Lincoln-Larimer in 2003, Bekezela Mguni has focused on the relationships between social justice, education, art & freedom. A “self-taught & community-educated artist,” Mguni is also a poet, screenprinter, activist, archivist, installation & experimental performance artist, candle maker, and librarian, founding The Black Unicorn Library and Archive Project in 2015. With the TTAA award, the already accomplished Mguni aims to grow her facilitation & organizing skills. She says, “My strong suit is certainly working with communities of color, marginalized groups I identify with and those in need. However, I continue to be challenged by opportunities to bridge the gap & be a liaison to communities different from my own experience (i.e. the majority, non-marginalized groups).”

Neighborhoods represented: Garfield, Homewood, Hill District, Allentown & Lincoln-Larimer.

Thomas Chatman

For two decades, African drummer & dancer Thomas Chatman has studied & performed around the world, from Washington DC to Senegal. His passion for sharing these art forms led to his work as a teaching artist & arts administrator, educating children in dance & drumming, and assisting artists in transitioning artistic discipline into the education domain. “What motivates me most as a teaching artist,” Chatman explains, “is the experience of watching [students] discover their own voices. I use a holistic approach to teaching rooted in cultural concepts, teaching artist best practices & high performances teaching strategies.” He aims to gain experience teaching mixed-age classes with his TTAA grant.

Neighborhoods represented: Northside, Homewood, Hill District & Woodland Hills (Rankin).

Celeta Hickman

Three decades of dancing, creating & singing for the concert stage, making visual art, and teaching children in these disciplines comprise Celeta Hickman‘s long & varied resume. Her work is informed by processionals & masquerades from West Africa, Brazil, Haiti, the Lesser Antilles & Cuba, and the study of Yoruba court & spiritual regalia. She says, “I use contemporary materials to tell very old stories.” A recent inductee into Women of Vision (one of the oldest & most esteemed African American women’s art organizations in the Mid-Atlantic region), Hickman hopes to discover ways to communicate the breadth & depth of her practice in limited-run & short-term projects such as residencies & workshops, “to scale down and still offer wonderful & imaginative arts experiences.”

Neighborhoods represented: Hill District.

Jordan Taylor

Perhaps best known as one half of hip hop duo Tracksploitation, Jordan Taylor is a jack of all audio visual trades. As a teaching artist with Steeltown Entertainment Project, he mentors high school students in the area of film & digital media arts, including as director of production on “The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh,” a FOX-TV show that brings together youth with varied socio-economic backgrounds from a dozen area schools to produce a 30-minute program. Taylor was further able to connect the Steeltown students to 30 learning & entry-level positions on a recent feature film production. He plans to seek out administrative & organizational resources with the TTAA grant.

Neighborhoods represented: Homewood, Homestead, Hill District, Northside & Wilkinsburg.

Kim El

“Teaching art & sharing my skills with youth is indeed a passion for me,” says playwright & performer Kim El. “Within the past 12 years,” she explains, “I have taught play-writing, poetry, acting & graphic arts to middle & high school youth [throughout] Pittsburgh.” Currently the Creative Writing Instructor at the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center in the Hill (where she grew up), El has mentored poets, actors & vocalists through techniques she developed from her own studies, such as psychodrama. “I allow my students to write or act out events in their lives to make their work believable [and so they] can reveal their art openly in a safe creative space.” With her TTAA award, El can create space for learning to delegate, discipline & protect intellectual property of her young artists.

Neighborhoods represented: Hill District, East Liberty, Garfield, Homewood & Hazelwood.

Akil Esoon

It’s no exaggeration to call Homewood native Akil Esoon a Pittsburgh music superstar. In addition to an ongoing tenure as keyboardist/vocalist with Formula 412 & producing music for TV’s “Empire,” Esoon continues to build his legacy via numerous teaching artist affiliations (Hip Hop on L.O.C.K., 1Hood, YMCA Lighthouse, and residencies with area middle & high schools). His curriculum: cultural literacy through Hip Hop history, basic music theory, music production, songwriting & media literacy. “Since 1996,” says Esoon, “I have dedicated myself to using my musical talents to uplift & empower the youth in the community through creative & passionate programming.” This includes steering the conversation to a wide range of social topics (politics, environment, police), American pop culture & “what is going on in the ’hood.”

Neighborhoods represented: Homewood, Sheraden, Wilkinsburg.

Mario Quinn Lyles

Growing up in Buffalo NY, Mario Quinn Lyles felt “very trapped, misguided & misunderstood.” It was through his childhood mentor, Lenny Lane & his organization F.A.T.H.E.R.S., that he was able to find confidence, meaning & the encouragement to apply to The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — the city he now calls home. “I honestly have no idea where I’d be if it weren’t for [Lane’s] relentless passion to empower boys subjected to the life of poverty,” he says. “I realized through my craft I could truly have an impact in the lives of young people.” Lyles’ Pittsburgh experience as a teaching artist includes mentoring through dance at Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Alloy School, Creative Life Support’s We Rock Workshop, YMCA’s Lighthouse, and his own creative arts space, Level Up Studios, where he aims to “make art, music & movement accessible in life, not just the classroom.”

Neighborhoods represented: Garfield, Hazelwood, Clairton & Homewood.

Alisha Wormsley

Interdisciplinary artist Alisha Wormsley puts it simply: “I’ve been so lucky being a teaching artist.” It’s given her the ability to travel the world, bringing visions like quilt-making with Harlem pre-schoolers & cigar butt sculptures with Cuban children to fruition. Her foundation was strengthened at Winchester-Thurston (on scholarship), where she was exposed to 3D art, modern African history, Japanese rice paper making & dark room photography. “What a privilege it was to get the education I was getting,” she reminisces. “That has carried on with me — I try to give the kids access. And respect.” With current & past teaching artist positions & residencies at the Westinghouse High School, Children’s Aid Society, the Romare Bearden Foundation, the International Center of Photography, the August Wilson Center: Wormsley’s CV is staggering. She says, “With or without funding, no matter what public art project I’m doing, I’m always collaborating with communities. That’s a part of my process.”

Neighborhoods represented: Homewood, Larimer & Hill District.


Shimira Williams

“A Pittsburgh native & entrepreneur who aspires to be a catalyst in eliminating the digital divide,” Shimira Williams brings more than 15 years of experience integrating technology tools & service into a variety of environments. ​​As a consultant, she helps organizations & entrepreneurs to adapt technical processes, and implement systems to manage electronic exchange of information. With TEKStart, she hosts a summer maker’s institute for youth aged 10-14, wherein fashion is infused with technology or electronics. And with Take Flight Pittsburgh, Williams & her team are now developing a temporary public art project that promotes building vocabulary in children up to age 5. Williams declares: “I feel like I am on the verge of my production possibility curve. I’m standing at a 4-way intersection of my passion, my journey as a continuous learner, an Internet of Things* maker, and developer of products & community.”

Neighborhoods represented: Homewood.

*the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send & receive data

Richena Brockinson

For Richena Brockinson, it all began as a teenager in an after-school photography class at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild. From there, she got an opportunity to help shape & run the photography department for the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation’s Frank Bolden Urban Journalism workshop. Brockinson secured her first teaching artist gig there as a volunteer instructor & chaperone with the PBMF’s summer workshop. “I wanted to share what I knew with those that did not have the opportunities to look behind the camera and see a future for themselves,” she says. She continues to work with both PBMF & MCG today. She says, “Photography to me is a a different view on life and I get to share that with my students.”

Neighborhoods represented: Chateau, Northside & East Liberty.