Institute on Black Life Annual Conference

Arts Health and Healing for African American Community Empowerment

Co-Host: Center for PAInT, Partnerships in Arts-Integrated Teaching and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

The USF Institute on Black Life (IBL) will host its Annual conference on the Sarasota Manatee Campus.  This conference is co-hosted by the USF Center for PAInT and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Topics specifically address racial injustice, historical inequity, and healing through arts, while creating opportunities for participants to explore the arts as an evolving frontier in health and wellness.  Researchers discuss how to build model arts programs that amplify diverse voices to cultivate resiliency, reduce stress, and improve wellness. The event will also center around research, culturally-inclusive arts integrated practices, and community-affirming ways to advance research collaborations between the arts sector and health agencies. Explore the transformative power of the arts as a driver for healing during times of social strife. 

WATCH Full Length Video RECORdings of the CONFERENCE Panels:

Dr. Gloria Browne-Marshall, Keynote Speaker – Full Presentation

Wanda Battle, Guest Speaker – Full Presentation

Reimagining Blackness," discussed reimagining art, literature, and history through blackness

Museum Studies in Arts-Integrated Instruction: The Montgomery Experience

Conversation on Culturaly Inclusive Arts Integrated Education in Teaching and Reacher

Family and Community Well-being and Arts as Healing


Speaker Profiles

Gloria Browne Marshall

Dr. Gloria Brown-Marshall
Fellow and Visiting Professor, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University


Gloria J. Browne-Marshall is a writer, social justice advocate, and full Professor at John Jay College (CUNY) where she teaches classes in constitutional law, race and the law, and gender and justice. Prior to John Jay College, taught at Vassar College and practiced civil rights law for SPLC, Community Legal Services (Philadelphia), and the NAACP LDF. 

Always the writer, Gloria has several stage-plays to her credit as well as award-winning short films “Dreams of Emmett Till” and “SHOT: Caught a Soul.” Gloria is the author of “She Took Justice: The Black Woman, Law, and Power,” “The Voting Rights War” and “Race, Law, and American Society: 1607 to Present” among others. Her essays have appeared in The Miami Herald, Milwaukee Courier,,, and She travelled to Angola to work on a docuseries based on her book “She Took Justice.” 

Browne-Marshall has given legal commentary on national and international issues for France24, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, BBC, NPR, WHYY, WVON and other media. Browne-Marshall has presented an intervention before the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, and spoken on issues of racial justice in England, Wales, Canada, France and across the United States. She is a member of the National Press Club, Dramatist Guild, Executive Council Member of ASALH, and a Fellow of the American Bar Foundation. Browne-Marshall is a Book Project fiction writer at the Lighthouse Writers Workshop (Denver), creator of a new animated series "Your Democracy," and recipient of a Pulitzer Center grant. 


Wanda Battle

Ms. Wanda Battle


As a Montgomery, Alabama native and lead Legendary Tours guide, Wanda Battle is no stranger to the historical relevance that her magical city has to offer. Being born during the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott and raised during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement, Wanda has grown up with a sense of community that is unmatched. Ingrained in her is the desire to bring together a collaborative community that works to make life a better place for the next generation through the art of storytelling, and thus, Wanda has deemed herself a great Jalimuso, or Griot. 
Rooted in West Africa, a Jalimuso is a female Griot, commonly known as a wordsmith in West African culture. The craft of storytelling, using the power of music and words, is typically passed down through family members in an art form known as Jaliyaa. Most individuals who become Griots have an ancient history of being connected to serving royal families and sharing their knowledge through song, poetry, and stories. Wanda is a physical representation of a true Griot through each and every Legendary Tour and invites others to do the same. 
Using the inspiration of standing against injustices and segregation, Wanda embodies her ancestors as she fulfills her passion for legacy during each tour. Wanda uses her background in music to share experiences of everything from the non-violent movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to the Human Rights Movement and many other historical facets in Alabama history to offer an entertaining yet life-changing virtual experience. 
She is a 1977 graduate of Spelman College, B.A. Degree in Music, specialized in Voice and Performance. 


Karen Holbrook

Karen A. Holbrook, PhD
Regional Chancellor, USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus


Karen A. Holbrook was appointed regional chancellor at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus on Jan. 2, 2018, after serving as executive vice president at USF Sarasota-Manatee campus and senior advisor to the president of the University of South Florida since the summer of 2017.  

Holbrook was the interim president at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University for one year before returning to USF. She previously served as USF’s senior vice president for global affairs and international research (2010-12), senior vice president for research, innovation and global affairs (2007-10) and as senior advisor to the USF president (2013-16). 

Holbrook initially came to USF after serving as the president at The Ohio State University (2002-07); the senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at the University of Georgia; vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at the University of Florida; and associate dean for research and professor of biological structure and medicine at the University of Washington School of Medicine. 

She has served on the boards of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), ACT, Inc., the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the American Council of Education (ACE), the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (now APLU), the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS), and Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), Washington Advisory Group (WAG), among others. Dr. Holbrook has also participated on advisory panels and councils for the National Institutes of Health (NIAMS) and was a member of the Advisory Committee to the immediate past Director of the NIH (Elias Zerhouni). She currently serves on the boards of the Institute of International Education (IIE), CRDF Global, Bio-Techne, Academic Assembly, Inc., INTO USF, and is the immediate past board chair for Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU) and until recently, served on the Board of Trustees for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). She is a Distinguished Fellow of the Global Federation of Councils of Competitiveness (GFCC). 

Holbrook was an active biomedical researcher and NIH MERIT Award investigator early in her career. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Zoology at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and a doctorate in Biological Structure at the University of Washington School of Medicine where she served as a postdoctoral fellow in dermatology, faculty member and research administrator. 

She is married to Jim Holbrook, a physical oceanographer who spent his career with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at Pacific Marine Environmental Lab in Seattle, Washington and in Washington, D.C. They have one married son, James, who is the Senior Art Director and Producer for ABC World News in New York City. 


Paul Kirchman

Dr. Paul Kirchman
Campus Dean, College of Arts& Sciences 


A native Floridian from St. Petersburg, Dr. Kirchman received his PhD in Molecular Biology from Emory University and his BS in Biology from Eckerd College. Dr. Kirchman arrived at USF in 2016 and is the Campus Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. Prior to his appointment at the campus, he was a founding member of Florida Atlantic University’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College and for 10 years served as the Chair of Science and Mathematics. His research interests include aging, mitochondrial metabolism, and cross-kingdom symbiosis.


David Ponton

Dr. David Ponton III
Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Director, School of Interdisciplinary Global Studies 


Dr. Ponton is a historian of twentieth century America who teaches courses concerning race, gender, sexuality, and class in the past and present.


Tangela Serls

Dr. Tangela Serls
Special Advisor to the College of Arts and Sciences Dean on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (SADEI) and Associate Professor of Instruction, Department of Women's and Gender Studies 


Dr. Tangela Serls is the inaugural Special Advisor to the USF College of Arts and Sciences Dean on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (SADEI). A 2021 recipient of the University’s Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching award, she is also an Associate Professor of Instruction in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies. She is engaged in scholarly activities and is currently the principal investigator for a Florida Humanities grant entitled, “Freedom in Creativity: Building Meaning and Bridging Difference Through the Humanities.” The project seeks to explore the role of meaning—both in terms of language and semiotics—in helping us build coalitions across differences. One of the implicit goals of “Freedom in Creativity” is increasing black student enrollment at USF. Dr. Serls was born and raised in Macon, GA and was a first-generation college student. She received her B.A. from Fort Valley State University and her M.A. from Florida A&M University—two historically Black Colleges and Universities. When asked how she would describe herself, Serls says, “I’m Southern, and I would like to think I embody some of the better characteristics of the South including our charm and hospitality.”


McArthur Freeman

Prof. McArthur Freeman, II
School of Art and Art History, College of The Arts, USF Tampa Campus 


McArthur Freeman, II is a visual artist and designer whose work explores hybridity and the construction of identity. His works have ranged from surreal narrative paintings and drawings to digitally constructed sculptural objects and animated 3D scenes. His most recent works combine three interrelated emerging technologies: digital sculpting, 3D scanning, and 3D printing. Freeman’s work has been published in Nka Journal of Contemporary African Art and has been exhibited nationally in both group and solo shows. Freeman earned his BFA degree in Drawing and Painting from the University of Florida. He received his MFA from Cornell University, with a concentration in Painting. He also holds a Master of Art and Design from North Carolina State University in Animation and New Media. Freeman is currently an Associate Professor of Video, Animation, and Digital Arts at the University of South Florida where he continues to use digital tools to address traditional processes as he explores hybrid ways of making and thinking about art 


Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman

Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman
Associate Professor of Sociology and Interim Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Recruitment, Retention and Engagement  


Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman, Associate Professor of Sociology and Interim Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Recruitment, Retention, and Engagement at The University of South Florida. She received her B.A. from Cornell University and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from Duke University. She is the author of The Color of Love: Racial Features, Stigma, and Socialization in Black Brazilian Families (2015-UT Press), a three-time award winning book. Along with numerous published articles and book chapters, she also co-edited the book Race and the Politics of Knowledge Production: Diaspora and Black Transnational Scholarship in the USA and Brazil (Palgrave). She has been the recipient of numerous awards and grants, including by the Ford Foundation, the American Sociological Association, and the Reed Foundation. A Fulbright research scholar to Brazil, Hordge-Freeman published her most recent book in 2022, Second-Class Daughters: Black Brazilian Women and Informal Adoption as Modern Slavery (Cambridge University Press). She has taught courses on Racial & Ethnic Studies, Comparative Racial Stratification, Global Human Trafficking, and created an award-winning study abroad program on Afro-Brazilian culture in Bahia, Brazil. Recently, she and her husband, McArthur Freeman, launched the Imagine_Blackness_AI Instagram page, which uses artificial intelligence to explore Afro-Futurism and speculative fiction. She previously served as Senior Advisor to the President and Provost for Diversity & Inclusion, as well as the Interim Vice President of Institutional Equity at USF. 


Brenda Walker

Brenda Walker, Ph.D. JD
Professor Exceptional Student Education


Dr. Brenda L. Walker is a Professor in the Exceptional Student Education Program at the University of South Florida and Director of the CAROUSEL Center. In 1995, she developed Project PILOT, the first of several initiatives that prepared African American men for urban special education teaching careers. As a result of that initiative, 31 African American men have graduated and are teaching children with special needs. Dr. Walker is also the director of a federal outreach and technical assistance project that enhances the urban school research capacity of faculty and graduate students in minority institutions. 

She co-authored a constructive behavior management text and has several book chapters and papers on schooling issues related to African American children. Her scholarship also centers on the disciplinary practices to which African American learners are disproportionately subjected, issues around ethics, power, and privilege, and strategies for African American students with academic gifts and talents. In sum, Dr. Walker has delivered myriad presentations and workshops for teachers, administrators, and family members on enhancing African American students' success by affirming their individual and cultural differences and developing culturally responsive pedagogy. 


Sandra Stone

Sandra S. Stone, Ph.D.
Professor, Dept. Of Criminology, Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies


Dr. Stone is a Professor in the Department of Criminology and Assistant Dean of Graduate Studies for the USF Sarasota-Manatee Campus.  She received a B.A. in Psychology and Sociology and an M.A. in Psychology from the University of West GA, a Ph.D. in Sociology from Emory University, and a Post-doctoral certificate in Organizational Behavior from Tulane University.  She has obtained specialized certifications in the areas of Child Advocacy, Leadership, Gang Specialist, and Mediation.  Dr. Stone has over 40 years' experience both inside and outside academia in the fields of health, social services and education as a direct service provider, teacher, researcher, administrator and consultant, and she has received numerous awards and special recognitions for her work.  Her primary interests are in the areas of juvenile delinquency/juvenile justice, family violence, women and crime, public policy and program evaluation, and she has a number of publications and presentations in those areas.  In addition, Dr. Stone has served on a variety of professional and community boards, committees and task forces at the local, state, and national levels related to her areas of expertise. 


Kyaien Conner

Kyaien O. Conner, PhD, LSW, MPH
Special Assistant to the Dean on Diversity and Inclusion (SADDI) 
Chair, Faculty Senate Council on Racial Justice, Associate Professor Department of Mental Health Law and Policy, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences 


Dr. Kyaien Conner is a tenured Associate Professor of Mental Health Law and Policy at the University of South Florida. She is a licensed social worker by profession and is currently the Vice President of the National Alliance on Mental Illness for the State of Florida. Dr. Conner received her BS in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh. She has a Master's Degree in Social Work and a Masters in Public Health with a specialization in Minority Health and Health Disparities. She has a Ph.D. in Social Work and post-doctoral training in community psychiatry.  

Dr. Conner’s research investigates the factors that influence disparities in health service utilization and treatment outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities and examines culturally meaningful approaches to improving behavioral health. Dr. Conner has received over 2 million dollars in funding for her research on behavioral health disparities. Dr. Conner has 40 publications that speak to the impact of her work, and she has presented at over 45 scientific conferences in the United States and Internationally.  

She has received several awards, including USF’s Outstanding Professor Award in 2016 and USF’s Black Faculty Member of the Year in 2020. She has also received many accolades for her work as a public speaker. Dr. Conner presents nationally on issues regarding Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, anti-racism, and race-based trauma and its impact on mental health. 


Ruthmae Sears

Dr. Ruthmae Sears
Associate Professor for Mathematics Education, Associate Director for the Coalition of Science Literacy, Lead Faculty Facilitator for USF Inclusive and Equitable Pedagogy Program


Dr. Sears is an associate professor for mathematics education, associate director for Coalition for Science Literacy with a focus on inclusive excellence, and lead faculty facilitator for the inclusive and equitable pedagogy program at the University of South Florida. Her research focuses on curriculum issues and systemic changes in K-20, the development of reasoning and proof skills, clinical experiences in secondary mathematics, and the integration of technology in mathematics teaching and learning. She has presented nationally and internationally and has published in leading mathematics education journals.  
Dr. Sears is actively engaged in scholarly activities.  She is the co-principal investigator for the NSF-funded (#2142714) “Challenging Anti-Black Racism in Civil and Environmental Engineering Curriculum”, and a key personnel for the CyberFlorida grant entitled “The modernization of Digital Information Technology”.  
Dr. Sears is the Kappa Delta Pi- International Honor Society 2022 Chapter Leader Award Recipient for Regional Chapter Counselor, a 2021 AAAS Fellow, and an NSF-funded IAspire Leadership Academy Fellow in 2020. She was also the 2016 Florida Association of Mathematics Teacher Educator (FAMTE) - Mathematics Teacher Educator of the Year. 


LaDonna Butler

LaDonna Butler
Associate Program Director, Family Study Center, USF St. Petersburg


Dr. LaDonna Butler, Ed.D., LMHC is an Associate Program Director for the Family Study Center and an Adjunct Faculty member in Psychology on the St. Petersburg campus. From 2018-2020 she served as the Family Study Center’s Learning and Development Facilitator for the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg sponsored-project “Trauma-Informed Infant-Family Mental Health,” and later served as PI for an expansion of that initiative, “Reckoning with Race and COVID-19 in Infant-Family Mental Health.” 


Micah Johnson

Dr. Micah E. Johnson
Assistant Professor, Department of Mental Health Law & Policy, USF


Dr. Micah E. Johnson is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Mental Health Law & Policy at the University of South Florida. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Florida and completed a National Institute of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse T32 Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of Florida.  His research interests include a range of topics related to behavioral health and health disparities: the effects of childhood psychological trauma, the epidemiology of polysubstance misuse in pediatric populations, social inequalities, including race and racism, and health disparities among adolescents in the juvenile justice system. Dr. Johnson founded the Study of Teen Opioid Misuse and Prevention at the University of Florida, one of the largest clusters of underrepresented undergraduate trainees in drug abuse research. He also served as the Project Director of the Study of Nonoral Administration of Prescription Stimulants. He was awarded the Lydia Donaldson Tutt-Jones Research Grant, the UF Rollo Award, and membership in the Alpha Lambda Epsilon Honors Society, membership in the Bouchet Honors Society as well as other awards and honors.

His teaching focuses on substance misuse, psychological trauma and social inequality. 


Michelle Angelo-Rocha

Michelle Angelo-Rocha
 Ph.D. Candidate in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies, USF


Michelle is a Brazilian Ph.D. candidate in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of South Florida. She earned her master's degree in Latin America and Caribbean Studies at USF; and her bachelor's in Journalism at the Universidade Católica de Brasília (Brazil). During her time at USF, Michelle has advocated for the rights of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). Michelle’s leadership efforts, research, and community work focus on the rights of underserved immigrant children, mothers, and families in K-12 public schools in the U.S. and Brazil, immigrant human trafficking victims and survivors, and women and girls victims of gender-based violence.  
Her research agenda focuses on Brazilian, Haitian, and Hispanic communities in Florida's public schools and how schools communicate with non-English-speaking families. Michelle’s work focuses on examining the experiences of immigrant mothers and children through testimonials and arts-based research (painting, poetry, and photography). As well as the effects of anti-migration and "English-only" educational policies, practices, and processes on their life experiences and well-being. Michelle’s research is grounded in critical theory and examines how language interconnects with race, ethnicity, nationality, immigration status, class, disabilities, sexuality, and gender. Michelle hosts the bilingual YouTube project titled Our Stories (Nossas Histórias). In addition to receiving the 2022 USF Golden Bulls Award, she is also president of the Student Organization for Qualitative Methodologies (SOQM).  


Russia Collins

Russia Collins, LMHC


Russia Collins is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified Child Protection Professional. A long-time contributor and collaborative partner with the Family Study Center and its community initiatives during her years working in community behavioral health and as the Sixth Judicial Circuit's Community Coordinator for Pinellas County's Early Childhood Court, Ms. Collins joined the Family Study Center and its direct services clinic, the Infant-Family Center, as its Clinical and Training Director in 2021. In her position, Ms. Collins leads a team of infant-family mental health clinicians, practitioners and specialists who specialize in providing family systems-informed assessment, coparenting consultation, and child-parent therapy for children from birth through age five who have encountered trauma or early adversity. Prior to joining USF, Ms. Collins was a contributor to the Family Study Center's "Listening to Babies" partnership with Concerned Organizations for Quality Education for Black Students (COQEBS). Lending her 15+ years of experience with children and families in the child welfare system to a major new healthy relationships initiative funded by the Administration for Children and Families, she also was instrumental in helping the Family Study Center plan, organize, start up and implement that community-embedded partnership. In that work, her efforts included co-development and facilitation of the newest adaptation of the Family Study Center's Focused Coparenting Consultation model, "Strengthening Family Safety through Coparenting" (SFSC), available to families participating in the ACF initiative.