Black Heritage Celebration

Black Heritage Celebration

Spring 2021

The Arts as a Praxis of Liberation


The Arts as a Praxis of Liberation

Embodying Change and Transformation in a Time of Racial Justice

Commonwealth Honors College presents a live exhibition and discussion featuring groundbreaking UMass Amherst faculty who are working at the intersection of art praxis, racial justice, and the embodiment of change as pathways to liberation. Experience the creative scholarship and the ways in which their work connects with today’s efforts to create a more inclusive world that centers Black artistry and its critical impact.




The 2021 Commonwealth Honor College Black Heritage Month celebration event took place on Monday, February 15, at 6:30 p.m. 




Jamila Lyiscott, PhD (Dr.J)

Spoken-Word Poetry

Professor Jamila Lyiscott is an assistant professor of social justice education and is co-founder and co-director of the Center of Racial Justice and Youth Engaged Research. She is nationally recognized for her spoken-word poetry and her Ted Talk, “3 Ways to Speak English,” which has over 4.8 million views. She is the author of Black Appetite. White Food.: Issues of Race, Voice, and Justice Within and Beyond the Classroom. She is co-editor of the highly acclaimed journal of Equity & Excellence in Education, and holds faculty fellowships at the University of Notre Dame and Teachers College, Columbia University. Lyiscott’s current research focuses on the power of youth-led social research and activism to foster liberation and racial healing across schools and communities.




Juana Valdés, MFA

Visual Arts

Professor Juana Valdés is an associate professor in printmaking at the UMass Amherst Department of Art. Her work has been featured internationally, and she is a recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Grant, New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in sculpture, and the National Association of Latinos Arts and Culture Visual Artists Grant. She uses printmaking, photography, sculpture, ceramics, and site-specific installations to explore issues of race, transnationalism, gender, labor, and class. Functioning as an archive, Valdés's work analyzes and decodes experiences of migration as a person of Afro Caribbean heritage. She holds an M.F.A. from the School of Visual Arts, her B.F.A. in sculpture from Parsons School of Design, and she attended Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in 1995. 



J.Al Bilali

Judyie Al-Bilali, MFA

Performance and Theater

Professor Judyie Al-Bilali is an associate professor of performance and theater for social change in the Department of Theater. She has worked as an actor, director, playwright, and producer for off-Broadway and in regional theaters nationwide. She has also authored two books: For the Feeling: Love & Transformation from New York to Cape Town, a memoir; and Halcyon Days, a poetry collection. Al-Bilali is the recipient of numerous awards, including grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the Kentucky Arts Council, the Marion and Jasper Whiting Foundation, the UMass President’s Creative Economy Initiatives Fund, and the prestigious MacDowell Colony. An alumna of UMass Amherst, where she created her own undergraduate individual concentration major in African American Performing Arts before completing her graduate studies in theater with a concentration on directing.