Our Voices-in-Residence


With GroundShift, we're committed to cultivating educational environments that are immersive and experiential -- not distant or theoretical but related to our everyday lives. That’s why we’re featuring a selection of “Voices In Residence," talented artists that will serve as on-site poets and writers throughout the weekend.

This Voices-in-Residence program has a few goals. First, we want to integrate storytelling and spoken word into every aspect of the GroundShift experience -- not just include it as performance. Through our residents, we want to help our attendees connect, and help them think differently about the potential for culture. How can poetry play a role in our mealtimes? In our conversations? How can it help us understand and relate to each other more deeply?

Another goal of the program is to elevate individual stories from marginalized communities, and to build bridges between those who write about social justice and the people who shape how that struggle plays out on the ground. How can we use storytelling and language more effectively to help other Americans understand our realities? How can we use creativity to build vision for collective action? How can writing be of service to those doing front line work?

The Voices-in-Residence are being curated and guided by nationally-renowned slam poet, Joel Francois. Born in Haiti and raised in Flatbush, Joel has been recognized nationally through his work with the Bowery Poetry Club. (See his performance of “Interchangeable Parts” here.)

There will be four "fellows" joining him:


Amira El-Behiri is a researcher by day, writer by night. She Bruce Wayne’s it at NYU Hospital's cancer clinical trials department. Her real passion, though, is preventive health and her vision is to change the healthcare model in America. Organizations Amira works with and supports are City Harvest, Artistic Noise, and PNHP which rescue food and redistribute to low-income NYC neighborhoods, bring art to previously incarcerated youth, and fight to institute universal healthcare in New York, respectively. She Batman’s it by working on an
LP which explores the double identity of first generation immigrant Muslim women. She is also in the process of publishing her first chapbook, “Most Merciful”, where she reconciles her relationship with Islam and her dominating experience in an antonymous progressive environment. When she's not working, she likes to dance, exercise and play outside.


Savon Bartley is an international spoken word poet, award winning writer, and teaching artist who uses his passion for storytelling and poetry to address the narrative of masculinity, social justice, and the black experience. Featured at venues around the world such as the Apollo Theater, MTV UK, and The United Nations, his exhilarating performances have allowed him to tour internationally as well as work in theater, film, and television alongside The Wu Tang Clan, The Black Panthers, and Russell Simmons. His work has been highlighted in The New York Times, Suspect Press, The Careless Embrace of the Boneshaker Anthology, Slate Magazine, Blavity, and Afropunk.  As a teaching artist, Savon stresses the urgency to allow students across multiple identities to see themselves as subjects rather than objects in the world, their own history, and their own education, teaching writing and performance workshops to middle schools, high schools, college students and community organizations across the globe including Yale University, Birmingham University, and NYU as well as high level UN events such as the World Youth Report, The Young Women and Girls Conference, and the Unite for Sight Global Health Conference. Nominated for a Social Impact Media Award, Savon’s poetry was chosen to be incorporated in the SIMA Classroom Catalog which is available to educators to foster global competency among students. Savon was born an only child in North Chicago, IL. He is currently based in NYC where he teaches poetry and creative writing and is the co host of Subjectivity UK.


Leah James was born and raised in Joliet Illinois in a very impoverished area west of Chicago. When she was 13 years old her Mother died and her life changed forever. She quickly learned how cold the world really is and had to learn how to take tragedy and turn it into beauty even as a child. She moved to New Jersey where she experienced culture shock and even more heartache. She began to write shortly after her mother died after her sister bought her a journal and encouraged her to express herself. She spent years living in the darkness of depression and dealt with her thoughts of suicide by writing. She wrote her prayers while living in a world that constantly silenced her. From the ages of 13 to 19 only a select few people knew Leah was a writer. She kept her secret until she was 21 when she was asked to share her poems at her college. After she shared her heart for the first time in front of strangers she realized that her pain can actually help someone over come their own struggles.  At the age of 16 years old Leah suffered from a ruptured brain aneurysm that caused a severe hemorrhagic stroke. Neurologists told her she would never live a normal life again. She lost her short term memory for 3+ years. She was determined to recover, she knew that God doesn't do anything less than perfect and that no matter what anyone had to say, she would indeed be back to "normal". The road to recovery was long, lonely and very hard but it created the Leah James we know and love today.  Leah has taken all of this life experience and has turned it into art. She has a heart for the world and expresses it through her spoken word and in her everyday life. Her ultimate goal is to be the woman God created her to be while helping others get closer to our creator and have the pressure of life lifted through love.


Akilah Etienne is a 22 year old recording artist, actress, and opera singer. She graduated from Brooklyn College in 2017 with her Bachelor's degree in Voice Performance with a number of honors. Post graduation, Akilah has joined the Dessoff Choirs for their 2017-18 season where she was a featured soloist for the Final Fantasy XVII North American premiere of ‘Heavensward’ at Carnegie Hall. Her previous notable performances include being featured soloist for Dr. Cornel West under the direction of Arturo O'Farrill as well as featured soloist for Senator Bernie Sanders at the Barclay’s Center. Akilah is excited to be on tour this summer playing the role of Deloris in “Sister Act” with Plaza Theatricals.


We are so excited to experience this powerful art with you!

Haven’t bought your ticket yet? Get it here!

Duncan Wall