An award-winning producer, artistic director, composer/lyricist, musicologist, and cultural curator, Nolan Williams, Jr. has dedicated his professional career to the curation of works that illuminate issues of civil rights, social justice, and cultural curiosities.
Named the inaugural Social Practice Resident at the Kennedy Center REACH in 2019, Nolan believes in the fundamental power of the arts to effect positive change. Over the past 19 years, he has forged his NEWorks Productions into one of the nation's premier creators of inspirational-arts projects, producing music, concert events, theatrical productions, videos/documentaries, art exhibitions, educational initiatives, cultural festivals, and other signature works that reflect the change he seeks in our world.
Altogether, these projects have reached a global audience of nearly 10 million, garnering broad acclaim along the way. Standout works include the Williams-directed documentary, “Becoming Douglass Commonwealth,” a chronicle of Washington, DC’s complicated journey towards statehood that won seven 2022 Telly Awards for global excellence in video and television—including the coveted Gold Prize for Best TV Documentary—and the groundbreaking series of cultural festivals Nolan developed from 2014-2018 in partnership with Philadelphia’s Mann Center: the Philadelphia Freedom Festival; Liberty: Unplugged; Firebird: Spirit Rising; New Frontiers: Launch, Explore, Discover; and Brilliantly Bernstein: Beyond the Baton.
A composer/lyricist who, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Peter Dobrin, "…has a musical language all his own…,” Nolan’s musical output ranges from choral-orchestral works to full-scale musical productions, including his latest, GRACE, hailed by The Washington Post as “a rousing, boisterously melodic new musical.”
Nolan is the recipient of the Kennedy Center's National Committee for the Performing Arts’ 2019 Award for Arts Advocacy and an honorary doctorate of music from Richmond Virginia Seminary. He is also chief music editor of the bestselling African American Heritage Hymnal (500,000+ books sold worldwide).
A resident of Washington, D.C., Nolan serves as co-chair of the Kennedy Center's Community Advisory Board and is founding artistic director of the NEWorks Philharmonic Orchestra and NEWorks Voices of America.
Virginia Ali is a truly incredible woman. Her earthly life began on her parents' Virginia farm on December 17th, 1933, and today she is as vibrant as ever. She smiles whenever recounting her fond memories of childhood on the farm, her deep involvement in her family's country church, her college studies at Virginia Union University, and moving to Washington, DC as a young woman to find her destiny.
As her beloved DC community knows so well, Virginia's historic destiny found her the day she met Ben Ali, her husband and partner in life, love, family, and business. The dynamic newlyweds opened the doors of the now iconic Ben's Chili Bowl on August 22, 1958. Today, nearly 64 years later, this institution has become a place of fond memories for countless friends from DC, Maryland, Virginia, and all around the world.
Known affectionately as "Mom" or Mrs. Ben, Virginia has touched the lives of everyone she has encountered. Although she has achieved near celebrity status, her demeanor has never changed – with all her natural poise and sophistication, she still exemplifies the pure, wholesome values instilled by her parents. She lives a philosophy of giving love and kindness to everyone she meets, and as a result she is cherished and respected in a way that is very rare these days.
In fact, at this point she is considered the "Matriarch of U Street" and countless DC residents call her "Mom." In addition to all the hours she has put in at Ben's Chili Bowl, Virginia has also made time for many other meaningful endeavors. She has served on the Board of Directors of For Love of Children, The Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage, the Islamic Society of the Greater Washington Area, and Cultural Tourism DC among others.
Over the years, Virginia and Ben have received countless awards and accolades including the prestigious America's Classics Restaurant Award from the James Beard Foundation. They were inducted into the DC Hall of Fame in 2002 and were later given the Key to the City by Washington, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty. More recently, the Smithsonian placed Ben’s Chili Bowl on its list of the 20 Most Iconic Food Destinations Across America.
With all that she has accomplished thus far, Virginia isn't resting on her laurels. As her family, friends, and employees will attest, she is a true dynamo who encourages those around her to live fully and strive for excellence in all areas of life. She gives generously of herself and her time, and despite all the recognition and accolades, she is perhaps best known for her kind, loving nature and her very sound wisdom. Virginia is truly a people person, and we are all very thankful for everything she gives us by simply being herself
Crystal Fernanders is a D.C.-based food blogger and recipe developer. After spending several years cooking in fine dining restaurants, she is now a freelance writer for The Washington City Paper as a carry-out food critic, the first in the country.
Carla Hall first won over audiences when she competed on Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef: All Stars” and shared her philosophy to always cook with love. She believes food connects us all, and she strives to communicate this through her work, her cooking, and in her daily interactions with others.
Carla spent 7 years co-hosting ABC’s Emmy award winning, popular lifestyle series “The Chew”, and she currently brightens the mornings of millions as a Culinary Contributor to “Good Morning America”. Carla is featured on Food Network shows such as “BakeAway Camp” (judge) “Thanksgiving Baking Championship” (host), “Holiday Baking Championship” (judge), and “Worst Cooks in America”. She was also a judge on “Crazy Delicious” (Netflix). Carla hosts a Podcast on the Wondery Platform called “Say Yes with Carla Hall”, focused on interviews with successful people to explore how they overcame challenges and found ways to flourish. Her latest cookbook, Carla Hall’s Soul Food: Everyday and Celebration, was published in 2018, landing on annual "Best Cookbook" lists across the country and receiving an NAACP Image Awards nomination.
Born in Nashville, TN, Carla grew up surrounded by soul food. When the time came for her to select her career path, she first opted for a business route – she graduated from Howard University's Business School and worked as an accountant for two years – before deciding to switch gears to work as a runway model. It was during that time, as she traveled (and ate) her way through Europe for a few years, that she truly realized her deep-rooted passion for food could be her career path.
Today, she is a trained chef who has worked in several professional restaurant kitchens in and around the Washington, D.C. area and is an accomplished television personality and author. In addition to being featured in numerous cookbook collections including The Chew Television Series of cookbooks, Carla’s other cookbooks are - Carla’s Comfort Food: Favorite Dishes from Around the World and Cooking with Love: Comfort Food That Hugs You.
Carla is very active with a number of charities and not-for-profit organizations that reflect her passion for causes close to her heart. She is on the Board of Trustees for Helen Keller International, Pajama Program, GenYouth and 4H. The thread which runs through all of these things is advocating for the physical and mental well being of children.
Carla is also culinary ambassador for GRACE, the musical.
She lives in D.C. with her husband, Matthew Lyons.
Rahman “Rock” Harper is a nationally-recognized chef, community activist, educator, healthy food advocate, podcast host, restaurateur, and writer. He discovered the culinary arts during his teenage years while spending summers in his grandmother, Esther Harris’ kitchen in Tapphannock, Virginia.
Chef Rock has extensive restaurant experience, most notably serving at the Executive Chef for B. Smith’s in Washington DC from 1999 until 2007. Chef Rock gained national recognition when he won Season 3 (2007) of the Fox Reality television cooking show Hell’s Kitchen, hosted by the legendary Chef Gordon Ramsay.
In 2013, he also won on an episode The Food Network’s Chef Wanted with Anne Burrell where he was offered the executive chef position of The Precinct steakhouse in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was the first chef in the show’s history to not have one plate of food returned to the kitchen by a diner.
In 2015, Chef Rock formed RockSolid Creative Food Group, LLC which focuses on helping chefs and restaurant communities achieve higher levels of success. He’s the host of The Chef Rock Xperiment podcast, and a food-industry, after-hours radio show appropriately titled Shift Drink.
In 2020, he opened Queen Mother’s fried chicken restaurant where the mission is to serve smiles, honor culture and build community.
Joanne Hyppolite, Ph.D., is the Supervisory Museum Curator of the African Diaspora at the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). Her expertise and interests are in diasporic cultural expressions, including foodways. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she was the Chief Curator at HistoryMiami Museum for eight years. The exhibitions she has curated include Cultural Expressions, Black Crossroads: The African Diaspora in Miami, Haitian Community Arts, and Black Freedom in Florida. She is the current board president of the Museums Association of the Caribbean.
Dr. Lance London, Prince George’s County Restaurateur, Educator, Serial Entrepreneur, and Business Mogul, has leveraged years of savvy business strategies, creative genius, deep multilevel marketing expertise, and a passionate love for community to build a multimillion dollar restaurant enterprise named Carolina Kitchen.
As a native Washingtonian, Dr. London’s story is rooted in the love, upbringing, values and culinary skills of his North Carolina-born mother, Mrs. Maxine London, South Carolina-born father, the late Mr. Otis London and grandmother, Mrs. Pearl Pierce who is affectionately known as Ma Pearl. His entrepreneurial endeavors began as a 15 year old Morgan State University student when he placed vending machines in key locations throughout Baltimore and Washington. This former Wrestling Champion developed an unquenchable thirst for success that enabled him to build a nation-wide sales force as National Marketing Director in the Insurance industry and create L. London and Associates to build a national sales force in the Sales and Marketing industry. Known as the Network Marketing Guru building profitable, million dollar sales networks, Dr. London attributes his formidable reputation for excellence to a principle learned from his motivational coach Dr. George C. Fraser who said, “Who we give our dollar to, is who we give our power to.”
As the 25 year CEO of Big City Foods Corporation, Dr. London combined a love for authentic Southern cuisine and Ma Pearls’ recipes with his own eclectic fashion style and artistic flair to create a signature restaurant brand. A devastating fire in 2003 caused by a neighboring business destroyed the first Carolina Kitchen that was opened in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland in June 1996. Out of the ashes of his first Carolina Kitchen, Dr. London and his architectural team designed a restaurant concept that now serves traditional southern dishes for lunch, dinner and brunch to more than 1.3 million patrons annually. Located in Largo, Hyattsville, and Brandywine, Maryland and Washington, D.C., each independent, All-American Southern cuisine restaurant features Cajun and Creole-inspired food and hand-selected art, antiques and memorabilia to capture the unique history of each community and work of local artists.
Dr. London’s love for community is further evidenced by his philanthropic commitment to feeding more than 1,500 homeless at the annual Carolina Kitchen Thanksgiving Day Dinner and giving Christmas Toy Drive gifts to 12,000 children and families at Children’s National Medical Center, Ronald McDonald’s House, area shelters, and regional safe houses. His heart for others and commitment to excellence, education, and entrepreneurialism has made this nationally recognized mentor and business strategist a highly sought resource to train students, young professionals, executives, and business owners and a strategic consultant capable of designing operationally-sound, efficient and profitable business models.
NeVetica is Dr. Lance London’s newest e-commerce endeavor designed to penetrate the $80 Billion dollar pet industry using a downloadable, free app. Signature to his branding methodology, Dr. London and his team have created innovative, technology-centric nutrition, health and wellness tools and products for pets. Located in Lanham, Maryland, NeVetica was born out of Dr. London’s own experience when his pet companion suffered a stroke. Research saved Rocky’s health and birthed the creation of a new marketing firm that now has more than 5,000 independent business distributors poised to launch in July 2018.
Dr. London’s success is led by one simple guiding principle that has helped hundreds of thousands to rise above their circumstances and win, “When you go into business with God, you’ll never go out of business!”
Jamila Robinson is the food editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer where she leads a team of reporters and directs its multiplatform food content franchise. Previously, Jamila was an editorial director for Atlantic Media where she led content strategy projects for media companies. As a senior content strategist for the USA TODAY NETWORK, she managed editorial strategy for special projects including USA TODAY’s Wine and Food Experience. Jamila was also a senior editor for features at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she led its features and entertainment team. Jamila is the chair of the James Beard Foundation Journalism Committee, which organizes the highest honors in food media. She also serves as the coach and mentor for the JBF fellowship program. Jamila is an idea person, an avid traveler, and in her free time, coaches figure skating. Her love language is pie. @JamilaRobinson
Furard Tate also known as “Chef Tate”, is a third-generation Washingtonian who has worked in the foodservice and hospitality industry in the Washington, D.C. community for over 25 years. In 2006 Tate opened his first restaurant on H street in Washington, D.C. and through this restaurant he severed over 3000 meals a day to several Washington, D.C. charter schools and day cares.
Tate has been a man on a mission to help prepare Washington, D.C.’s returning citizens, veterans and young people to find employment and success in the hospitality industry. Since 2001, Tate has trained more than 2,000 returning citizen veterans and unemployed youth. Tate has taken on the task of providing job training and coaching for culinary industry. His program has gained national attention and he has been featured on NPR, Anderson Cooper 360, Washington Post, Washington Informer. Tate believes that if giving the right knowledge and keys people can began to get out of poverty.
In 2019, Tate was selected to serve has a WeDC ambassador for the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership. Tate is WACIF Fellow and is an alumnus of 202Creates resident program. in 2019 Tate also served on the board for the Swani Sister City through the Mayor’s Office of African Affairs and is a active participant of the D.C. Food Council.
Currently, Furard Tate is the co-host of the weekly radio show “Be Inspired DMV” on WOL 1450 AM which provides positive informative information to help people the community live a more productive and fulfilled life. Tate’s current mission is to teach and help restaurant owners and other small business owners how to pivot their business and the power of collaboration to survive and sustain their business through the current climate do to COVID.
Erinn D. Tucker-Oluwole, Ph.D. is the director of the Global Hospitality Leadership master’s program at Georgetown University and co-founder of DMV Black Restaurant Week. She has worked for over 25 years consulting for small businesses in the service industry focusing on hospitality industry, workforce development, food and beverage organizations and Fortune 500 companies. She has been quoted in the Washington Post, Food & Wine Magazine, Washingtonian, DCist, Wall Street Journal, CGTN America amongst other regional publications. She has been widely sought after for regional metropolitan media such as WTOP, Foodie and the Beast, WPRW, WEACT Radio, Fox5, WUSA Channel 9 and others. Dr. Tucker-Oluwole has consulted for companies such Amtrak, Social Tables, the Charlotte Hornets and Charlotte Knights and has contributed event management experience to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Dr. Tucker-Oluwole has contributed articles for Lodging, the official publication of the American Hotel and Lodging Associationand Social Tables. She co-chaired the HR and Diversity Summit for Lodgingmagazine for three successful years, served on the inaugural local organizing committee for the historically black collegiate CIAA conference, advisor to the National Society for Minorities in Hospitality, served as chair and committee member for several hospitality associations including the International Council of Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Educators (ICHRIE) and Professional Conventions Management Association (PCMA) and National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners.
Before Georgetown, she has held faculty appointments at Boston University, Temple University, and Johnson and Wales University, the latter being one of the top culinary arts programs in the US. She serves as the 2021-2022 James Beard Foundation Mid-Atlantic co-chair for the Restaurant and Chef Awards committee, Clinton Foundation 20/30 Advisory Board, the Tourism Advisory Committee for Destination D.C., D.C. Academy of Hospitality and Tourism, and Blacks in Travel and Tourism. She is a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, Washington, D.C. Chapter, Skal D.C., Junior League of Washington and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Her published work has appeared in tourism journals, textbooks, publications and trade periodicals and she won the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism EducationBest Paper Award in 2016. In 2022, she was named one of the 25 Most Influential Educators in Hospitality by the International Hospitality Institute. Her upcoming book, The Black Travel Movement is under contract with Columbia University Press.
Psyche Williams-Forson, Ph.D. is Professor and Chair of the Department of American Studies at the University of Maryland College Park. She is an affiliate faculty member of the Theatre, Dance, and Performing Studies; the Departments of Anthropology and African American Studies; The Harriet Tubman Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and the Consortium on Race, Gender, and Ethnicity. Dr. Williams-Forson is a material culturalist who examines the lives of African Americans living in the United States from the late 19th century to the present. Her research explores the ways in which Black people (broadly defined) engage their material worlds, especially with food and food cultures, as well as historical legacies of race and gender (mis)representation. She has conducted extensive research throughout the United States in this area using intersectionality, cultural studies, popular culture, and more to inform our understanding of these phenomena.
Kevin S. McAllister is a classically trained baritone and a versatile actor/singer who has performed as a leading man with every notable theater company in the Maryland/DC/Virginia region including Signature Theater, Ford’s Theater, Olney Theater, Arena Stage, and Washington National Opera. Notable roles include his portrayal of Daddy Warbucks in Annie with Olney Theater, Flick in Violet with Ford’s Theater, and Jim/Newt/Riley in Ford’s Theater’s production of Parade, all of which resulted in 2018 Helen Hayes Award nominations for Best Actor. He has also won the prestigious Helen Hayes Award in the category of Outstanding Lead Actor, for his signature role Coalhouse Walker in the classic musical Ragtime (Ford’s Theater in 2018 and Toby’s Dinner Theater in 2016).
Mr. McAllister made his Broadway debut in the musical COME FROM AWAY. He is also Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Baltimore-based ArtsCentric. Since its founding in 2003, Mr. McAllister has served as director for every production, including critically-acclaimed productions of Elton John and Tim Rice’s AIDA and CHICAGO. Additional directing credits include ASSASSINS with St. Mark’s Players and productions of DREAMGIRLS, SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE, BEEHIVE and RENT (Co-Director) with Toby’s Dinner Theater.
Mr. McAllister received his B.A degree in Music from Morgan State University and has served as an Adjunct Professor in Musical Theater Techniques at Howard University. He has further served as Fine Arts Teacher and Theater Instructor for Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts, Randallstown High School, The Actors Toolbox, Samuel F. B. Morris Elementary School, and ArtsCentric’s Summer Music Institute.
Chances are that you’ve heard the amazing soprano voice of Nova Y. Payton with the internationally staged musical, 3 Mo’ Divas; on television; or in countless regional theatre productions across the country. Boasting a prolific catalog of artist collaborations, the former American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA) student has shared the stage with Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack, Levi Kreis, Bobby McFerrin, John Michael Higgins, Yolanda Adams, Betsy Wolfe, Michael Uris, Anthony Hamilton and Michelle Williams. She has also opened for heavyweights like Ashford and Simpson, Will Downing, Melba Moore, The Chi-Lites, and more. Nova has performed in over 150 major cities in the US, as well as in Canada, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, and Europe.
A DC native, Nova is also one of the most familiar faces in the local acting scene, having been nominated for 5 Helen Hayes awards and winning in 2012 for her portrayal of Motormouth Mabel in Hairspray at Signature Theatre. Recently she has been seen on stage at The Kennedy Center, Ford’s Theatre, Signature Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre, Shakespeare Theatre Company, and Arena Stage.
Nova also leads and directs the choir Favour at St. Martin’s Catholic Church. She is a celebrated jazz vocalist, cabaret artist, worship leader, and vocal coach.
“Anitra McKinney is a mature and gifted singer with an astonishing vocal range and sophisticate delivery” –Janet Rems Fairfax Times
In the Baltimore/Washington Metro Regions, soprano Anitra Raquel McKinney has performed as soloist and chorister extensively with the Duke Ellington School for the Arts Show Choir, The renowned Morgan State University Choir and Opera at Morgan. She is known for her versatile vocal abilities in a wide range of musical genres including classical, opera, musical theater, gospel, R & B and jazz.
As a singer of great versatility, Anitra McKinney has collaborated on stage in a duet with Stevie Wonder and has sang back-up with Pattie Labelle, Denyce Graves and Earth, Wind, and Fire. In musical Theater she had performed the role of “Effie” in the Broadway show Dreamgirls and in April 2013 she performed the role of “Sofia” in Morgan State University’s production of the Broadway musical sensation The Color Purple. In the summer of 2015, she was double casted as “Aunt Em” and “Glinda the Good Witch” in George Faison’s production of The Wiz at the Summer Stage in Central Park. In December 2015, she was a featured artist in a Christmas special titled The Soul Now Sings, which was recorded at The Greene Space with New York Public Radio.
Anitra McKinney is a graduate of the Duke Ellington School for the Arts in Washington, DC where she studied voice and is a recent graduate of Morgan State University where she received a B.A. in Music.
Monique Steele Griffiths is a Canadian-born songstress and inspirational recording artist. Gifted with remarkable range and vocal dexterity, she has shared the stage with George Duke, BeBe Winans, Denyce Graves, Donnie McClurkin, Earnest Pugh, Marvin Sapp, Darryl Coley, Richard Smallwood, Khristian Dentley of Take 6, Maurette Brown Clarke, Nolan Williams Jr., and more. Monique has also performed as a soloist in Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, Jamaica, Canada, Australia, and across the United States in venues such as The Kennedy Center and Strathmore. She has also sung for President Barack Obama and his family.
Monique is the former interim director of music for 19th Street Baptist Church located in Washington, D.C., the oldest black church in that city. Born in Montreal, Quebec and raised in Alberta, Canada, she was dually influenced by the music of her Jamaican parents and the diverse artistic styles that permeated her Calgary community.
Monique holds a music degree in vocal performance from Columbia Union College. Most recently, she premiered a lead role in J.D. Fowler's Atlanta stage production of GO BACK AND GET GOD!.
Leigh Delano is a classically trained pianist with a passion for music directing, piano conducting, rehearsal accompanying, and synth/Mainstage/B3 pit work.
Her recent D.C. area work includes:
Her upcoming project is AMERICAN PROPHET at Arena Stage (Keys 2).
BAMUTHI (Marc Bamuthi Joseph) is a 2017 TED Global Fellow, an inaugural recipient of the Guggenheim Social Practice initiative, and an honoree of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship. Joseph’s opera libretto, We Shall Not Be Moved, was named one of 2017’s “Best Classical Music Performances” by The New York Times. His evening length work created in collaboration with composer Daniel Bernard Roumain, “The Just and The Blind,” was commissioned by Carnegie Hall and premiered to a sold out house at Carnegie in March 2019. His upcoming piece, “Watch Night” is inspired by the forgiveness exhibited by the congregation of Emanuel AME church in Charleston, and will premiere at The Perelman Center in New York in 2022.
While engaging in a deeply fulfilling and successful artistic career, Bamuthi also proudly serves as Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. He is in high demand for his creative approach to organizational design, brand development, and community mediation, and has been enlisted as a strategic partner or consultant for companies ranging from Coca Cola to Carnegie Hall. His TED talk on linking sport to freedom design among immigrant youth has been viewed nearly 1 million times, and is a testament to his capacity to distill complex systems into accessible and poetic presentations. His other TED talk, an excerpt from The Just and the Blind, has been viewed nearly 2 million times. Bamuthi's community development philosophy, called "The Creative Ecosystem", has been implemented in dozens of cities across the United States and is the subject of several critical writings, including one of the seminal essays in "Cultural Transformations: Youth and Pedagogies of Possibility", published by Harvard Education Press.
Bamuthi is the founding Program Director of the exemplary non-profit Youth Speaks, and is a co-founder of Life is Living, a national series of one-day festivals which activate under-resourced parks and affirm peaceful urban life. His essays have been published in Harvard Education Press; he has lectured at more than 200 colleges, and has carried adjunct professorships at Stanford University among other historic institutions.