Speak Up! Summit Series

The (Em)Power Hours

Monday, May 10 – Friday, May 28 

To Students and Teachers – Welcome to the Summit!

Northlight is thrilled to announce our first ever Speak Up! Summit. The goal of the Summit is to bring together students from our Speak Up! residency programs to celebrate young artists and amplify the issues and communities that matter to them. This all virtual event is designed to be as flexible as possible. Join us as we work to promote joy, create art, and reconnect.

All content will be hosted here and go live May 10!


Program of Events

You can have your pick of any of the events below:

  • Power Hour – Videos featuring Northlight Teaching Artists leading art-making prompts on expressing gratitude, critical thinking, and community building.
  • Power Hour LIVE – Bring a Teaching Artist back to your virtual classroom for an interactive workshop on creative self expression and self care.
  • The Speak Up! Digital Zine – More details to come.
  • Watch A Distinct Society – Get access to a special reading of this new play by Kareem Fahmy. For more details on the show, view our event page.

To get updates about the Speak Up! Summit, click the button below.

Get Updates


Interested in participating in the Summit, but didn’t have a Speak Up! residency this year? Email summit@northlight.org

Power Hours

Check out our upcoming Power Hours! Videos and sample lesson plans for teachers will go live May 10.


Attitude of Gratitude

Showing thanks to those among us, those passed, and ourselves.

In a combination of mindfulness and free writing exercises, students will identify individuals and resources for which they are grateful, identify and affirm their strengths, and engage in positive self reflection.
Taught by Sheldon Brown and Vanessa Strahan


What’s On Your Mind?

Share and receive perspectives using critical thinking, observations, and consensus building.

Students will practice critical thinking skills and consensus building through group discussions and activities that reflect on school culture and how it can grow, and set intentions for future learning.
Taught by Abby Thompson and Jenn Oswald


With These Hands

It takes teamwork to make the dream work!

Through a series of writing and visual media exercises, students will collaborate to manifest a better school community through fostering connections; setting positive intentions; and collaborating around shared goals, passions, and ideas. What does a community that is built for the community look like?
Taught by Gus Thomas and Jasmine Jordan


Students can submit any artwork generated in the Power Hours to the first ever Speak Up! zine.

Questions about the Summit? Email summit@northlight.org

Sheldon Brown is a graduate of Emerson College ’14. He performed in Time Is On Our Side and This Bitter Earth at About Face Theatre and soon after became an Artistic Associate. His other credits include A Wonder In My Soul at Victory Gardens Theatre. Oedipus Rex and Man In The Ring by Pulitzer Prize playwright Michael Cristofer at Court Theatre and more. He also has numerous credits in Boston including The Grand Inquisitor, directed by Peter Brook through ArtsEmerson. His film credits include Cicada ( SFFILM Rainin Grant, OutFest, BFI Flare Festival, Frameline Film Festival), The Canyonlands, and My Name is Alex. He is a recipient of the President’s Award for Creative Courage from Emerson College for his work educating and inspiring others to create social change. He is a teaching artist with Northlight and Steppenwolf Theatre, as well as the League of Chicago Theatres in conjunction with the August Wilson Monologue Competition.

Jasmine Henri Jordan (she/ her) is a writer, performer, and teaching artist living in Chicago. She is an ensemble member at The Neo-Futurists, a company member at Playmakers Laboratory, and a founding member of Hot Kitchen Collective. Jasmine teaches performance and creative writing to youth and adults through Playmakers Lab, Northlight Theatre, The Viola Project, and the Neo-Futurists. She is a Florida State University School of Theatre alum. Her work is overwhelmingly about queerness, Blackness, pop culture, youth, and making messes. Follow her good work at https://linktr.ee/live.laugh.blood.

Jenn Oswald is thrilled to be a member of the Northlight Teaching Artist cohort. She began leading Speak Up! residencies in Winter 2017 and has continued working with Northlight as an educator and programming consultant since. Outside of Northlight, Jenn is the Program Manager with Turning the Page, where she works with families in the North Lawndale neighborhood on literacy and at-home learning strategies. She has also taught writing workshops with Open Books and spends her summers in Winona, MN as the Director of Summer Education Programs with Great River Shakespeare Festival, where she has been a company member since 2013. Jenn is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and is a proud alum of the Apprentice Program at Actors Theatre of Louisville (Education/Teaching Artist). For more information, visit JennOswald.com.

Vanessa Strahan is an educator, performer, choreographer, and director based in Chicago. Currently, she is the Education Director at Mudlark Theater, where she also teaches, directs, and choreographs. She is an ensemble member with Chicago DanzTheatre Ensemble and Theatre Unspeakable, and works and dances with Joel Hall Dancers & Center. After studying at the Actor’s Gymnasium, she joined their teaching staff two years ago. Vanessa graduated from Northwestern University where she studied Musical Theatre, Choreography, and Political Science. In her time there, she served as the Outreach Director of Seesaw Theatre, producing original, multi-sensory theatre for children with autism and other disabilities. For more on her work, visit vanessastrahan.com.

Gus Thomas has been working as a bilingual actor, teaching artist, and writer ever since he left his home in rural Oregon. He’s worked with theaters and schools in Seville, Spain as well as Chicago. He specializes in using theater as a medium to teach a second language. He’s worked with Northlight and Global Voices Initiative as an educator since 2018. As an actor he’s worked with Teatro Vista, Filament Theater, and Corn Productions where he is a company member. He is a graduate of Whitman College and has trained at the American Conservatory Theater, Dos Lunas Teatro, and the iO Theater.

Abby Thompson is a teaching artist, voiceover artist, and actor originally from Milwaukee, WI. She has performed and taught professionally with Northlight Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago Children’s Theatre, Storycatchers Theatre, First Stage Children’s Theater, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, African American Children’s Theatre, Compass Creative Dramatics, and Collaboraction. She is currently also a teaching artist for Afterschool Matters at Beidler Elementary School, where she has been teaching the past four years. She also records voiceover for audiobooks, narrations, and commercial work. Abby holds a BA in Acting with a minor in Voiceover from Columbia College Chicago. She has spoken on several arts advocacy panels, including the Education Pre-Conference for the Theatre Communications Conference 2019. Abby has written, directed, performed, and has a passion for theater for social justice, mixed race theater, devised theater, immersive theater, and children’s theater. In her spare time, she is found travelling the world! For more of her work, visit: abbythompson.org.