Fellowship Invites Diverse Voices to Be Heard
The Pace Storytelling Fellowship for Equity and Inclusion is providing new opportunities to promote diverse creatives.
With the inception of the Pace Storytelling Fellowship for Equity and Inclusion, funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Dyson College has a new opportunity to play an important role in fostering diversity and equal representation.
Launched in fall 2019, the fellowship program was created as a springboard to amplify diverse voices. Open to sophomores and juniors, it provides training and mentorship through monthly workshops, seminars, and events geared toward developing creative excellence and mastery of the writing craft, as well as assistance with graduate school applications and career and job search guidance. Fellows also receive a stipend and a paid summer internship to equip them with the knowledge and experience to enable success.
“This program gives an opportunity for students whose voices might not otherwise be heard to write,” program coordinator Lucia Burns said. “Representation matters, and we all want to see ourselves in stories, whether in plays, television, film, or fiction.”
The inaugural cohort of nine participants began in spring 2020 after a comprehensive application and interview process. They attended several panel discussions with industry professionals, including “Working Writers in New York,” featuring playwright and screenwriter Dustin Chinn, screenwriter/director/producer Sue Kramer, and young adult author and founder of We Need Diverse Books Dhonielle Clayton; “How to Pitch,” featuring entertainer Mo Brown and writer Rashaun Allen; and “How to Get the Most out of Your Internship,” featuring Andrew Tolbert, senior director of kids and animation at Hello Sunshine, and Cishawn Randolf, director of human resources at A + E Networks. During summer 2020, the students interned at arts, media, and technology organizations including New York Stage and Film, Clubbed Thumb, Girl Be Heard, Firelight Media, 9 Story, Valiant Entertainment, and Art Garage.
“Our overall goal is to help diversify writers’ rooms across the spectrum of arts organizations by developing a growing cadre of excellent and knowledgeable writers from currently under-represented groups to tell their compelling stories,” Burns said.
Meet the Fellows
The inaugural cohort of Pace Storytelling Fellowship for Equity and Inclusion participants includes these writers from across the nation and around the world.
Cheyenne Anderson ’21
“In fourth grade, I had a writing teacher, Mrs. Clark, who had us write short stories, and she told my parents that mine was one of the best she had read from a kid my age,” Cheyenne Anderson said. “I took the compliment and ran from there!”
Today, she’s an acting major, International Performance Ensemble program, who is actively involved at Pace. During the 2019–20 academic year, she served as president of Stand Up! Productions, a student theater organization, and represented the Pace School of Performing Arts in the Student Government Association. As a storyteller, she’s produced poems, plays, and other work grounded in authenticity.
“I believe in the necessity of telling lots of different kinds of stories with unflinching honesty, and I try to do that through whatever medium best suits the story,” Anderson said.
The truth about her own story is that it hasn’t always been an easy one. Originally from Kentucky, Anderson struggles with chronic mental and physical health conditions, and her path to Pace took her through boarding school, a gap year, and community college.
Now, she’s using her own experience as inspiration to forge a career as a multifaceted theatrical artist and producer.
“The Pace School of Performing Arts is a really fantastic program, so not only did the rigor of the artistic training draw me, but doing a tour of campus when I was sixteen really solidified for me that Pace is a wonderful community with a fantastic location and caring peer group,” Anderson said. “[As a fellow] I hope to gain a network of colleagues and mentors, along with a sense that my writing is worthy of being taken seriously.”
Luis Bermudez Jr. ’21
For Luis Bermudez Jr., writing is like “a puzzle.” “By the end of the story, everything will fit together and make sense, but the story itself will be chaotic,” he said. “I love invoking emotions and aim to write stories that will induce them.”
A film and screen studies major, he typically focuses his writing on the goal of entertainment and emotion, so it’s no surprise that music inspired his interest in storytelling. “I love artists who can tell a story with such vivid imagery that we all believe it happened the exact way they explained it,” he said.
Bermudez, who started out on Pace’s Pleasantville campus before transferring to New York City, hopes to sell scripts as soon as possible, while pursuing directing and film production. He’s thankful that the fellowship has placed him in an atmosphere to be able to work toward those goals.
“This fellowship is a great way to build connections and learn from people who are already [successful],” he said.
When he is not polishing his latest story or screenplay, Bermudez is an active participant in Pace’s intramural sports program.
Michelle Chan ’21
As a student in New York City, Michelle Chan has found plenty of new inspiration for her multifaceted work.
“The opportunities that come from living and learning in this unique city are one-of-a-kind,” Chan said.
While the directing major, International Performance Ensemble program, is interested in a variety of disciplines, she hopes to pursue a career as a director, bringing the stories of our communities of color to life and exploring themes of cultural fusion and identity.
Before starting at Pace, Chan spent several years growing up in Hong Kong. As a student, she served on the board of Stand Up! Productions throughout her freshman and sophomore years, helping to produce full-length performances and new works. Now, she’s looking to further expand her artistic community through the fellowship.
“I hope to create a network of other writers from diverse backgrounds and help each other navigate this industry that hasn’t made it easy for us to tell our stories,” she said.
Jemma Harris ’21
Jemma Harris first discovered her passion for writing through books. Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, she recalls living as a squatter—when there wasn’t enough money for rent—so perhaps reading offered an escape from the challenges of real life.
“I’m a big fan of detail, and I like to use genre as a way to tell meaningful stories in a way that can address reality without slapping the reader in the face with it,” Harris said.
A film and screen studies major with double minors in creative writing and journalism and digital storytelling, she hopes to find future success as a screenwriter and novelist.
“I applied to the fellowship in hopes that it would provide instructive or mentoring experience within different fields of writing beyond what’s available in a classroom, and give me a greater sense of connection to the school I’m graduating from,” Harris said.
At Pace, she is also involved in Stand Up! Productions and Feminist Allies.
Jada Henry ’21
For Jada Henry, storytelling is a way to recount memories and reorganize them through a different lens. She describes her writing as “naturalistic” and “abstract,” as she tries to keep the realism in her stories while also incorporating unorthodox themes.
“I’ve always been connected to storytelling,” she said. “I continuously try to keep a sense of reality so that the stories I write are like that of old friends reminiscing over whacky memories.”
When Henry isn’t capturing her memories on paper, she spends her time as secretary of Pace’s multimedia club, POP TV. The film and screen studies major is also a fourth-year Women’s Leadership Initiative mentor and recently celebrated the publication of her first fictional thriller, The Principles of Good Taste and Ornament.
“As a creator, often the biggest obstacle is yourself, so I am thrilled to have a piece of work I am proud of to my name,” Henry said.
Before coming to Pace, Henry had never ventured out of her hometown of Little Rock, Arkansas. Looking ahead, she intends to pursue screenwriting and acting in the film industry and believes the fellowship is an integral stepping-stone to those dreams.
Georges Yogolelo Mbuyu ’22
Born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Georges Yogolelo Mbuyu came to New York City to work toward degrees in both political science and English literature and language at Pace. Mbuyu, a member of Pace Music Group, the University’s music club, and an active representative of the Alpha Kappa Sigma fraternity, first discovered his passion for writing through a high school English teacher.
“[He] taught me that writing was an indispensable tool,” Mbuyu said. “We got to write and record our own shorts. It rarely felt like a lesson, and I’ve loved writing ever since.”
Today, as a fellow, he is honing his craft with new stories and friends, and through his writing he hopes to take the audience on a journey to discover real meaning.
“It’s seeing the uniqueness of all our lives that excites me and makes me want to share that [enthusiasm] with everyone I can through stories,” Mbuyu said.
Janvi Patel ’21
Janvi Patel is fascinated with hearing and recording people’s stories. Double majoring in American studies and art, she came to Pace to be in New York City, and she’s already had plenty of life experience as a world traveler, international volunteer, and adventurer—she overcame a fear of heights and water by cliff jumping with a friend.
With her writing, unapologetically wordy and descriptive, Patel likes to take readers on their own journey, one in which they forget their current surroundings.
“I like creating experiences for others through my stories that make them question their morality, existence, and society,” she said.
As a kid growing up in Lansdale, Pennsylvania, she was mesmerized and delighted by stories and books she discovered while exploring the town’s public library, as well as her school library. At Pace, she’s actively involved in several student organizations, including Blend 41, Aphros Literary Magazine, Pace Music Group, the LGBTQA Center, Setter Stage, and Pace Film Club.
As a fellow, Patel hopes to learn and engage with other writers, and she has big plans for the future, which include working in government and conservation, writing books, volunteering, and designing a school where she can help create mindful, meaningful curricula that are free and accessible for students.
Benjamin Daniel Ravelo ’21
Working toward degrees in computer science and English, Benjamin Daniel Ravelo has loved stories and comics since childhood.
Born and raised in New Jersey, he describes his storytelling style as an exploration of strange, fantastical environments and real, universal truths, infusing a poetic language and a bit of fun along the way.
“I love to cast my net into various genres, often science fiction, and try to fish out a truth to convey to the reader,” Ravelo said. “The higher the concept and the more relevant the theme, the better.”
He credits his experience with undiagnosed anxiety during his middle school years with helping to make him who he is today, and looking ahead as a fellow, he hopes to grow in his craft as a writer and gain opportunities to make further connections, especially in the world of comics and graphic novels.
He has already taken a significant first step, having co-written a mini-comic that has received positive audience response.
Justin Winley ’21
Film and screen studies major Justin Winley is a transfer student from Harlem who describes himself as the kind of kid who read the dictionary for fun and often played around on his dad’s old typewriter, fascinated as he watched the words formed in his mind print out before his eyes in real time.
His parents encouraged him to read from an early age, and as a writer, his favorite subject is the human connection.
“I explore the way people change over time, through relationships and trauma and everything else that can happen to us over the course of our lives,” Winley said. “This is what ties my poetry to my prose, my screenplay to my songwriting.”
At Pace, he serves as vice president of Pace University Martial Arts, a student organization he co-founded, and he is a member of both the Black Student Union and the Caribbean and African Student Association. As a fellow, Winley is developing relationships with working writers in the Tri-State area.
“I am connected to several like-minded and equally gifted/talented individuals who are all eager to build, and that prospect keeps me excited and optimistic about the future of art,” he said.
He looks forward to further collaborations, and his ultimate goal is to work in the film industry as a “one-man pitch machine,” developing screenplays for film and television with opportunities for him to perform.