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Breaking Boundaries with Jamil Khoury

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Jamil Khoury: We so often find ourselves in rooms that might be very toxic or might reproduce some very dysfunctional behaviors, and some very unkind dynamics. I want to remove myself from that room. Where is my energy best spent? My talents, my bandwidth, my dedication? How is that going to be best utilized? Is fighting recurring battles the best use of that energy?

Yura Sapi: You're listening Building Our Own Tables, a podcast produced for HowlRound Theatre Commons, a free and open platform for theatremakers worldwide. I'm your host, Yura Sapi, and I'm the founder of various organizations and projects, including a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, a six-hectare farm and food sovereignty project, an LGBTQ+ healing and arts space, and I've helped numerous creatives, leaders, and other founders unleash their excellence into the world through my programs, workshops, and coaching services.

In this podcast, I'm showcasing the high vibration solutions for you, as a visionary leader, to implement into your own practice and thrive. Stay tuned this season to hear from other founders who have built their own tables for their communities and for the world in this evolutionary time on earth. You are here for a reason, and I am so honored and grateful to support you on your journey, so stay tuned and enjoy.

Yura: Have you ever felt limited by the standards or practices of the current theatre industry? This is the episode for you. I spoke with Jamil Khoury of Silk Road Cultural Center, an organization that is dedicated to the Pan-Asian, North African, and Muslim experiences through the arts, really, the space of providing a catalyst for connection of people, places, histories, and futures. Silk Road Cultural Center really understands the importance of representation, the way that it can shape perceptions, inform conversations, and influence policies.

After experiencing the traumatic harm and hate coming at Asian and Muslim communities after 9/11, Silk Road became an organization that was really dedicated to addressing these perception challenges that result in a real violence and hate towards the community. Jamil is the co-founder and current artistic director. Such a journey over two decades of building this organization up to what it is now, and I'm so excited to share this wisdom with you today.

We go into topics around some of the solutions for reimagining what your theatre season scheduling might look like, decolonizing this understanding of what it means to support artists, of understanding when it's time to let go of certain people in your life holding you back from what your greatness is calling to you as a leader, and more tips and reframing on what it means to really build your own table that will be operating for decades to come. So I welcome you to enjoy this episode, receive this energy and wisdom, leap forth into your own destiny and your own table that you're building, so enjoy.

Before we get into this episode, go ahead and hit subscribe on this podcast. This is the best way to stay updated on new episodes, and it helps build a thriving planet where all beings experience joy and harmony with each other and mother earth. So go ahead and hit subscribe and keep this good energy flowing.

Welcome, Jamil, to the podcast.

Jamil: Thank you for having me. It's an honor.

Yura: Yes, it's an honor, as well. I am so excited to get into this conversation. My first question for you is, if you were a superhero what would be your origin story? What is that pivotal moment that led you to forge your own path and build your own table?

Jamil: I have to first establish that I am very much not proficient in superhero lore, so I am going to slightly pivot to the mission or the origin story, and then tie that in with how I understand superheroes to work. What was originally Silk Road Theatre Project, today, Silk Road Cultural Center—we actually had three iterations, Theatre Project to Silk Road Rising to Silk Road Cultural Center—was founded by me and my husband, Malik Gillani, in 2002. We first began producing live theatre in early 2003, and the company was founded as a response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

And perhaps this is in the superhero vein, the desire was to combat evil. The double whammy of the ideology that produced the attacks or spurred the attacks, which we believe completely hijacked and defamed Islam and Muslims. And then, the backlash that quickly ensued against Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, South Asian Americans. Malik is originally from Pakistan, came here at the age of eight. My father was from Syria. We were able to locate ourselves, our backgrounds, within the historic Silk Road, and we thought that bringing together what we call Silk Road peoples would be a way to heal the rifts and the divides and the hatreds that became so accentuated after 9/11, and obviously continue to play out in any number of ways.

We were looking at an absence of representation of Asian, Middle Eastern, North African, and Muslim voices, and also Orientalist, colonial and racist histories of what I'm going to call very bad representation or misrepresentation, and we wanted to own that mantle of storytelling. So if there is heroism, I'm certainly not calling us heroes, but if there is a heroic impulse, it was to really bring our communities, to center our communities, within cultural production, and to give people that permission that we all felt we somehow needed to tell our stories and to believe that there are people who would care to hear them.

Yura: Wow. That is incredible. I will say, to me, that sounds like a really important superhero origin story, and just all of this wisdom that you've gained over the past couple of decades. I'm so curious, and I know listeners also will benefit from getting to know more about this journey that you've been on. What can you share about some reflections from then to now? What are the biggest key takeaways?

Jamil: Well, Malik and I were not trained theatre professionals. Our academic backgrounds are in other fields, we were both working in other arenas, let's say. I had started playwriting and it was a hobby, and that hobby grew into our initial production, a play that we submitted to the City of Chicago, The Department of Cultural Affairs, was selected to be part of a season. So that became this kind of immersive or, let's say, baptism by fire that, "Oh my gosh, we need to start building infrastructure around this vision of telling the stories of Silk Road peoples.” So the fact that we came as outsiders, I sometimes like to describe us as immigrants to theatre, and that it wasn't necessarily an assimilationist immigration, but that we were going to pick and choose and also try and define our own paths, as best that we could.

Over the course of time, we found a great deal of acceptance and a recognition. Yes, there were early battles, there was some confusion, there was pushback, there was all of that, but this willingness, in this post-9/11 climate to hear stories and perspectives and experiences that were not being amplified in any way on America's stages or in American cultural production, presented some very unique and ideal opportunities for us. That, okay, we were going to start filling in these absent areas, and also help cultivate communities of artists. We were always making the case to other theatre companies in Chicago to tell the stories of the Silk Road diasporas, people of SWANA or MENA backgrounds, people of East Asian, South Asian, Central Asian backgrounds, and we see that happening today.

I'm not saying it's perfect. I'm not saying all of the problems have been resolved, probably not by a long shot, but there has certainly been an openness. And I'm even going to argue, an enthusiasm for stories that were not, once again, finding their place within what we broadly call the American theatre. If we're going to trace a journey, it has certainly been an uphill trajectory, not without bumps, not without roadblocks or obstacles, but a great deal of perseverance and a community that was open.

Chicago is special, and it just served us really well and continues to serve us well. I haven't really produced theatre in other cities. We've done theatre events in other cities, so I can't speak with expertise, but I want to say that this unique thing, this unique animal that we call Chicago theatre, welcomed us and also nurtured us. And, in turn, we were able to offer nurturance.

Yura: Amazing. Yes, really receiving the support to fill your own cup, and to then overflow into others. I'd love to hear what advice you might give to your younger self, the younger Jamil who was starting this organization.

Jamil: I certainly would have emphasized the self-care piece. That, I know, always comes up in conversations amongst theatremakers. We become so driven by deadlines, by commitments, by passion, by aspiration that has the effect of sometimes neglecting one's own self. I'm getting better at it. I'm by no means perfect, but having more of a work-life divide, which to us, because we're a married couple and we are also running an organization, almost by default, those lines would get seriously blurred.

I think realizing that you can't do it all, and you certainly can't do it all at once. I'm teaching myself a lot about timing and spacing and pacing, and also that we can allow processes to play out, and that we can give processes the time and the love and the attention that they deserve, as opposed to being on the gerbil wheel or in this constant frenzied state, where we feel we have to rush and hurry and finish one thing and run to the next.

Yura: Yes, I hear that. Definitely. That's a beautiful recommendation and invitation for us to release this urgency and this need to produce, I would say, maybe, a final product or a specific understanding of results, and that there's actually a lot of opportunity along the journey. And I would say, even ways to share the results along the journey, because this may be qualitative data as to what the benefits that come from maybe taking a longer journey on a theatre piece from cultivating not only the piece itself, but also the artists who are a part of it.

I'm curious, I wonder if there's any examples of works that you have been able to support, artists that you've been able to support that, really, you could feel the difference between, this is a Silk Road artist experience versus somewhere else.

Jamil: Really, thank you for that. I do want to mention that how we quantify, qualify, and measure, we've been asked, industry-wide, to adhere to this set of rubrics and standards, which I actually find quite oppressive. It's develop a show, open a show, close a show, next show, and it has this kind of numerical quality. Whatever the number may be, that is somehow what is most impressive. Maybe that's an overly simplified or simplifying way of putting it, but we've really pulled back from that. We want to give time and space, and that it's not only about opening a show and closing a show once or checking whatever box one is asked to check, either by funders or by the needs of perception and creating and sustaining perception.

Instead, what nurtures the artist, what nurtures all of us in a collaborative effort? And how do we bring the audience most closely into those conversations, into that research, into that exploration, and ultimately, that healing and that transcendence, that we speak in very religious terms in this sector, catharsis, transcendence, redemption, so forth. That all has a lot of resonance and meaning for us.

I think of examples like the development of Adriana Sevahn Nichols' just remarkably beautiful piece, Night Over Erzinga, that dealt with the Armenian Genocide and a three-generation journey of a family and that the Lark Play Development Center in New York City, sadly no longer with us, and Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco, and what was then Silk Road Rising, that we were all able to spend a lot of time and offer a lot of space, and I hope, ample resources to really nurture a story that, for the artist, was so deeply personal and painful and involved a lot of her own discoveries and revelations along the way.

We committed to allowing this story to breathe, to find itself and to organically emerge. And it's gone on beyond our respective productions, it was translated into Armenian and performed in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and won some great awards. And I think that is testimony to simply allowing ourselves, as a collaborative, as an ensemble, to take what we need, to recognize the emotional, spiritual, material, the physical sacrifices that art making often entails. We have to take care of each other. These are learnings that I hope we apply to all of our art making scenarios.

There is the saying: "The way you do one thing is the way you do everything."

Yura: There is the saying: "The way you do one thing is the way you do everything." As an organization coming from a very genuine place of wanting to do good after a moment of a lot of harm, a lot of evil, and wanting to be that force of good, that force of light in a community, and for, really, the world. How we are able to treat each other as we do this work, the larger social impact that we're having on the world, really reflects in those interactions and the way that the hold space for each other and allow for each other to thrive in this workplace.

Jamil: I like to think that my tagline in this work is, "Assume good will and lead with grace," and obviously, those are not original ideas, we've pared them, but that is something that I'm always telling myself, to assume good will and I'm hoping others assume good will, because it's so easy to project bad will or malicious intent. And to lead with grace, to understand that we owe each other grace and we owe each other understanding, and we owe each other expectations and being upfront.

I also tell myself a lot that empathy equals strength, humility equals confidence, and gratitude equals success, and that's something I wrote down some time ago and that I look at often, that relationship between empathy and strength, humility and confidence, gratitude and success. I'm not saying I always succeed, I'm not saying that we always live up to that, but those have become operating principles, certainly amongst Malik and I and just the tone that we hope to impart.

Yura: Thank you for that recommendation. I'm definitely a proponent of this kind of affirmation work. When we do this type of affirmations, when we bring in these specific words that we want to fill our energy field with, it does work. Energy follows intention. I think that is why you've had such success with these guiding words that seem really helpful and beautiful in terms of the energy that we're bringing in.

And I'm actually a certified meditation teacher, specifically in the type of meditation called Freedom Meditation that uses the work of mantra meditation, so a tool for our mind with these types of words that we're repeating. I'm inspired by those specific words. I'm probably going to try and do a meditation on them, as well, to bring in that energy, so thank you.

Jamil: Thank you, and thank you for all the work that you're doing. This space that you've created, I would love to join one of your meditation sessions.

Yura: Are you ready for an upgrade to your mindset, to your capacity, to hold information, hold emotions, hold yourself in challenging times? As a certified Freedom Meditation teacher, I have an amazing surprise for you, which is access to free meditations by yours truly, to support you in really bridging the gap between your current self and the future self that you are calling forth into this reality. Meditation has been the number one daily practice that has changed my ability to really accept the abundance that is flowing my way and overcome the shadow side challenges of life, giving me the opportunity to expand beyond what I even thought was possible.

So, I want to share this practice with you, that's why I've teamed up with InsightTimer as a meditation teacher, so you can go ahead and click the link in our show notes to access my free meditations on the InsightTimer app. You’ll also have access to thousands of other meditations and receive updates whenever I post a new meditation. I can't wait to connect with you on the platform.

Yes, talking about self-care for leaders. This is what has given me more space to lead and to find these boundaries, like you were saying. I'm currently working with my partner in our organization, LiberArte, and so when you were talking about that, finding the boundaries between family life and work life, I definitely was intrigued by that, and I am curious, too, if you have any recommendations or things that you've really learned about that type of dynamic, in case other listeners, as well, might be going through that.

I think it's a common story, either with friends or even family or relationships, partnerships, to decide that we actually have a shared interest, a shared passion, and so we're going to do something about it. It might be more common than we think, and I'd love to help shine some light for anybody that might be going through that moment.

Jamil: I want to say that there is something very intuitive and instinctual that drives or defines a lot of our passions. I think this whole idea of choose your battles and this kind of thing, we know when there is a battle, a fight, a struggle, a cause that we need to commit to and that this is about integrity, this is about morality, this may be about one's religiosity of spirituality and how we want to operate in the world. We have to attach some very practical intentionality, that there is an intent to learn, that there is an intent to listen to share, to check ego, which is not always the easiest thing in the world, to check ourselves if we're feeling overly defensive or if we are reading hurt somewhere where it may not necessarily be.

I think, certainly, in many cases, there is hurt. Being able to distinguish, and this is where, once again, assuming good will, why that's so important, to me, and I think to both of us and to a lot of people, is that we want to trust each other. We want to rely on one another. I don't want to be second guessing intention or I don't want to assume, "Oh, there's malice at play or there somehow harm in the air." I'm not saying those things don't exist, I'm not saying we have to always enter situations completely devoid of defenses or awareness, but I think that life is short, which maybe that's cliché, and we should be able to choose the environments in which we can collaborate and in which we can thrive. I hope I'm not sounding too soapboxy or too preachy, but I feel strongly about these things.

I often use the metaphor of the room, the room that I want to be in versus the room that I don't want to be in. We so often find ourselves in rooms that might be very toxic or might reproduce some very dysfunctional behaviors, and some very unkind dynamics. I want to remove myself from that room. It took me a long time, but I just simply started to say, not announcing out loud, but I'm not going to play in this room, because this room doesn't feel very good. There is some danger and there is some harm, and I'm not saying that from a place of weakness but from a place of where is my energy best spent, my talents, my bandwidth, my dedication? How is that going to be best utilized and leveraged? And is fighting recurring battles the best use of that energy?

That theme of the room occurred to me many years ago, while sitting in a room, and this was with theatre artists, where a lot of people were being very unkind to each other, and maybe this is the idea that hurt people, I'm not even saying it was necessarily directed at me or at Malik or at Silk Road, but we both left the room early, because we had this strong sense that this is not where we need to be.

Yura: Yeah, being able to discern and to say no in these times when we want to make room for our complete yes. Because we can't say yes to the room that is our dream room, if we're still in another room that we can't get out of, so that's a beautiful metaphor, and I've definitely experienced that.

There was a time where I kept meeting people that just felt off, but that I felt like I needed to say yes to, and there's a certain point where, yeah, it's like, "Why do I keep meeting these type of people? Why do I keep getting presented with the same thing that I don't want? Oh, it's because I need to go ahead and say no and learn this lesson of saying, 'I'm actually going to stop that pathway, so that I can be open for other options and other people to flow through.'" And that definitely was a big game changer.

Also, when you look at the value of who we're surrounding ourselves with, especially as people who are building our own tables, who are basically doing something that no one has ever done, potentially, in our entire lineage, in our community, where we grew up, potentially, in the spaces that we, maybe, have been trained. There's this aspect of doing something that we haven't done before that we maybe haven't really seen other people do yet, in the way that we're thinking about.

So when we move into that transformation of ourselves, to be that person to bring this forth, we benefit more from being surrounded by others who are lifting us up, who are telling us that it's possible, who are saying, "Oh, you can do this," versus people who are still stuck in their own impossible beliefs and spirals and spaces of feeling stuck, because when we look at the larger vision that we have for these projects and for the impact we want to have, ultimately, we have to really say, "Okay, this is the impact that I want to have, this is the vision, this is project."

And so, I am going to invest in the time that I'm spending to make sure that it is surrounding myself with people who are helping bring forth that vision versus bringing it down. That's a really powerful realization for me, and I think for a lot of people in this type of work to understand and know that it's not necessarily it has to be this very dramatic exit or terrible argument to say, "It's over, we can't talk anymore," but it can be more of a slight adjustment, just a shift. You might even not notice it sometimes when we're leveling up, basically, in our capacity to transform, that actually we do meet other people and we are in new circles, and then more opportunities and more possibilities start to emerge. So thank you so much for bringing that up.

Jamil: Invest in the people that you want to work with, and you want to work with because they have your back and you have their back. I don't want to sound like a pop psychologist, but I've just come to realize that, and this is where I go back to “life is short,” is there is so much more that can get accomplished and so much more meaning, impact, and access that can be created when done in community that is loving, that is caring, that is understanding. I never understood why this zero-sum game, win-lose dynamic had to exist for many people in this sector, why so many people felt that we were all competing with each other. I'm not a big fan of competition, generally speaking. I know some people really thrive within a competitive... that's never been me.

It was: What is the connection? What brings us together? What do we share? And let's focus there as opposed to how we can outdo each other. In the nonprofit art making realm, this space, why are we trying to somehow nudge each other out of the way? What is the real gain there? We don't do this to become billionaires, we don't do this to amass great material power. We do this for very different reasons, I hope, ideally. And so, some of that spirit, which I'm going to call negative, I also hope we can start to really examine more closely.

Yura: I want to ask about this evolution you've had with Silk Road. I know you've talked about Silk Road Theatre Project, and then Silk Road Rising, and most recently announcing Silk Road Cultural Center. Can you tell us more about this shift?

Jamil: We started, as you said, as Silk Road Theatre Project, and it really was how do we create this space, within a theatremaking context, and a real commitment to what we might call the narrative arc play? Although, we've certainly done a lot to massage, bend, and blend genres, and our understanding of how we structure a story over the years. But really, a love for this particular art form. That started in 2002.

The change to Silk Road Rising reflected our move into digital work, as well as live theatre. So we were never leaving live theatre, but where we started making video plays and we started new play development processes online in these very kind of interactive ways, where we invited an online community to be part of a playwriting process and a play development process. We also made a few short documentaries, an animated short, and just began to really experiment with the camera and digital technology, how we take this four-thousand year old art form and, essentially, marry it to technology that did not exist until very recently.

So Rising was this aspirational name, also reflected the fact that we were doing a lot more arts education in Chicago Public Schools and community centers and senior centers with immigrant and refugee communities and our history of arts and social change advocacy. Silk Road Cultural Center really is, and I promise it is the final... we hope it has a long life, but going through this most recent rebrand was a reminder of, "Oh my god, this is a lot," but it makes sense as sort of the culminating rebrand that we want to think within a multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary landscape, that we want to look at the relationship of these different art forms, theatre, film music, dance, poetry, food, visual art, so forth, and how they relate to each other and inform each other and how we can program this more expansiveness into the life of the company and our engagement with audiences and artists and communities and so forth.

Yura: I definitely resonate with that evolution, as well. It's been a decolonizing of theatre for me, in terms of what I understand the source of the art form to be, this space for humanity to reconnect with ourselves and each other. And that, coupled with the reconnection to the earth, for me, has been the journey that I've been on, and now with LiberArte, my organization that I've started, it's been about bringing forth a thriving planet where all beings experience joy and harmony with each other and mother earth. And so, what we're focused on is these longer term supportive artistic residencies with artists from around the world. We're able to support their work as people who are really living our mission and our vision for the planet in their daily lives, and in the work they're already doing, and focusing on events that we can co-produce with other organizations, as well.

A big value is partnerships that are actually about bringing people together in connection to the earth. So we've done a music festival in Nuquí Chocó in Colombia with the current artists that are in our artist in residence program, Afro-Colombian music group called Tambacum, super connected to the ocean and the forest and their ancestry, and the music, the actual drumming and the songs that they are singing that are either ancestral or new songs coming from this story telling of their culture.

And then, now we're going to be producing, later this year, a music festival, another festival in the Rockaways in Queens, New York. It's an ocean festival where this music group will be coming for a US tour, and performing with other diasporic artists right on the beach, right in the Rockaways amphitheater. So I definitely feel you on, as someone from the arts, from theatre, an actor, trained in that field and moving into the management side, as well, because of the passion I had for really bringing these opportunities for other artists, marginalized folks in the theatre to the kind of production of it all.

And then, now, to really understanding how it is that this type of work is making an impact in a larger sense around the healing that we're doing with each other and, ultimately, with the planet. Because I think it's a really critical moment for us, as humans on this planet, to adjust and evolve to really hold what it means to continue being on this planet.

Jamil: And what beautiful decolonizing practices. You just articulated what a self-liberation, but also collective liberation. And, to me, so much of that is about shedding these siloed ways of thinking, shedding this either or praxis, that we do live in a non-dualistic world, we do live in a both/and world, although we've been told to somehow remove ourselves from the planet or the earth or the land or to live in our minds and not in our bodies or that somehow there's a disconnect there.

Any effort, I believe, to reject that, to refute that, to conjure and articulate entirely new ways of relating everything that you just described and I want to say kudos to you for your leadership and your vision, because we won't have an earth to enjoy, we won't have a planet to realize our potential in, if that isn't an integral part of our care regimen.

Yura: That is the vision, that is the task at hand, too, the calling. I'd love to hear more about this aspect of the current theatre industry that frustrates you, the siloing. How do you envision that we overcome this?

Jamil: It's the production mill mentality and a lot of this goes into what is often understood as season or it corresponds to season and season planning, which I have always found very frustrating. And many years ago, I declared myself to be anti-season, and in that, "Okay, we are being told, essentially by the powers that be, that we have to announce seasons, we have to curate seasons," and so, we early on started something called a rolling season, which is essentially that we're going to announce three things, and then one of them will be accomplished, and then we'll add a third thing to the list.

And that rolling season did not have to... I'm not saying it was the perfect solution, but it did not have to adhere to September to June, it could be this sort of continuous thing that different projects were given different durations and I don't even like to think along those terms, because I want to think that projects have this built in longevity and that they're living, breathing, generating, transforming systems, and I've just dispensed with season all together, as an artistic director. It's now we are about projects, and we are working on a number of projects, a few of which have been announced on our website, many of which have not yet been announced, because we're still discovering, and those projects will be produced as they materialize, and that we may return to them, and they may have these different facets.

So there's the public performance, there is the classroom, there is the community work, there is the idea generation, the producing of discourse, and that all of this can go into work with an individual artist or a community of artists. So really, how we structure programming, once again, season, how we structure our calendars is something that I have always found. I know there are people who love it, and they thrive within it and that's all great. I have always found it to be very limiting, and frankly, just constraining, oppressive, and not conducive to the type of work we want to do and the way we want to do it.

Yura: To be able to walk the talk.

Jamil: And to fall, and to pick yourself up and dust yourself off, and to reevaluate and to revisit the beauty that is growing, and learning from our mistakes. I have found the structure of the sector and the kind of expectations and limitations that can be imposed to be very stifling. And I would also argue unnatural, once again, at least to us.

Yura: That's really the benefit of being able to come in with fresh eyes on the entire industry standards and to really say, "This is what works, this is what doesn't." To me, it sounds like this is definitely one of the rewarding aspects of building your own table, but my final question is, throughout this entire journey, reflecting on all of it, what has been the most rewarding aspect of building your own table?

Jamil: It's the recognition that there is a hunger, that there is a need, that there is a desire for new stories, and new perspectives. We don't have to lock ourselves into these predetermined paradigms that were given to us or that we somehow inherited or that were imposed on us. There can be an exercise of a genuine freedom, the right wing like to own the word liberty, let's not let them own that. All sorts of words I don't want to let them own, but that kind of freedom or liberty is incumbent to how we express ourselves and how we find our stories in other people's stories and other people find their stories in our stories, and that is, ultimately, the empathic wonder.

We're blessed. Right? We are able to make art, we are able to find an audience, we are able to connect with people. I will tell you, as a theatre producer, I have always been in awe. We were always producing either in our downtown Chicago home, we were hosted by a church. We had left that home during COVID, but we're very city-oriented. People travel, they drive a car or they take a train or a bus or they do something to get to our work. Maybe they paid for parking, maybe they paid for dinner. There's a lot of choices in a place like Chicago. There's a lot of other things or stay home and watch Netflix. But you came to us, and that always, to this day, it evokes a sense of awe and of just gratitude. Wow, you want to spend your time, because you trust us and you are entering into this kind of relationship with us.

All of these have been this kind of recognition that even in our own small way, a small nonprofit organization, but in our small way, that there is momentum and magnitude and there is necessity and urgency. It matters what we are doing, we the collective. People want to write the obituary on the performing arts or live events or this, that, or... There's a human need. And I love Netflix and YouTube and all these things, but I also need to be in a room with other people in real time taking in a story, and whether that story is told through a play or through music or an art exhibit, going to the art museum, just a few blocks from here, The Art Institute and just saying, "Okay, we're going to focus on one room today, and it's Japanese ceramics," and just really allowing ourselves to take that in. These are the things that give our lives substance and that give us hope. Life without hope is a really scary thought.

Yura: Absolutely. And tell us how we can find your room. How can we get into your room that is Silk Road Cultural Center?

Jamil: Well, fortunately, we have this thing called the internet, and these things called websites, which also require nurturance and love. Www dot, one long word, silkroadculturalcenter.org, silkroadculturalcenter.org. We would love for you to follow our work. We send newsletters every three weeks, every two weeks, sometimes weekly. We're not going to sell your information to anyone, no spam, I promise. We love being able to broaden our reach and engage more people in conversation.

Yura: Amazing. Thank you so much, Jamil. It's been an honor.

Jamil: Thank you, Yura. This was really beautiful, and I feel honored. This has been a gift, so much gratitude.

Yura: Likewise.

This podcast is produced as a contribution to HowlRound Theatre Commons. You can find more episodes of this show and other HowlRound shows wherever you find podcasts. Be sure to search with the keyword HowlRound and subscribe to receive new episodes. If you loved this podcast, post a rating and write a review on those platforms. You can also find a transcript for this episode, along with a lot of other progressive and disruptive content on howlround.com. Have an idea for an exciting podcast, essay, or TV event the theatre community needs to hear? Visit howlround.com and submit your idea to this digital commons.

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Thoughts from the curator

I hear talk about wanting for racially diverse populations to “get a seat at the table” or “bringing chairs to the table for POC,” meaning that we want our people to have a position at existing organizations and institutions with decision making power. For me, a few years ago, I decided to not focus on infiltrating existing organizations, but rather start my own. I know I’m not alone. With the blessing that we all have a role in the revolution, this podcast checks in and learns from BIPOC founders of various organizations in and related to the theatre industry changing the game, making new things happen within, and expanding beyond white and euro-centric experiences. We will learn from these incredible visionaries who have created their own tables of arts institutions, movements, collectives, initiatives, and more. We learn about their processes, pathways to success, and challenges they've overcome. This is an outside-the-classroom leadership learning from folks who are doing the things.

Building Our Own Tables


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