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Thursday December 2nd

Meet two UNC professors who are merging art and advocacy

Chérie Ndaliko
Photo by Jerome Simpson
Buy Photos Chérie Ndaliko Photo by Jerome Simpson

Often times, art and advocacy are considered independent from one another. However, UNC professors have found a way to merge art and advocacy to better the world. Here are two professors who are doing just that.

Chérie Ndaliko 

Chérie Ndaliko Photo by Jerome Simpson

Chérie Ndaliko serves UNC as a professor in the music department. She is also an activist for international aid and serves as executive director of the Yole!Africa cultural center located in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Great War in the DRC and the starvation and disease that followed resulted in millions of deaths from 1998 to 2008.

Although the war officially ended in July of 2003, Ndaliko said her experience in 2010 when she visited the DRC lead to her activism today when she realized less than 3 percent of Americans knew about the ongoing tragedy.

Improving coverage is what Ndaliko is fighting for. Her advocacy focuses on the intersection of art and social justice where she advocates for humanitarian and charitable aid for the Republic of Congo. She does this to create a paradigm shift within international activism.

“Working collaboratively with somebody else creates a very different kind of connection than me yabbering on about statistics,” Ndaliko said.

She argues that standing in front of a classroom and educating students on the statistics regarding the war in Congo isn’t helpful.

“I could show victims of all kinds of violence from Congo and have them tell their story. But that evokes pity. It doesn't evoke any kind of cooperation," she said. 

Ndaliko said she opposes the framework in which inequality is preserved by systems and works against these systems by challenging the status quo through engaging in a multidisciplinary approach to education.

“I'm disturbed by the situation that I observe in which there are people trained in specific disciplines who are tasked with addressing conflict and resolving conflict," Ndaliko said. " ... The people who are studying creativity in education aren't part of that conversation.”

Her philosophy aims to close that divide. In most of her classes students work with peers in the DRC in hopes of building relationships.

“I hope that that informs the decisions that you all later make when you go into your professional lives," Ndaliko said. "And at the very least, you can't say, I didn't know there was a war in Congo." 

Kathryn Hunter-Williams

Charlie Robinson's Troy embraces his wife, Kathryn Hunter-Williams'Rose in PlayMakers Repertory Company's production of "Fences." Photo courtesy PlayMakers Repertory Company / Jon Gardiner.

When Kathryn Hunter-Williams was 12 years old, Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Suninspired her interest in theater and playwriting. She credits the power and beauty within the play for inspiring her to change the world through theater.

Today, Hunter-Williams uses similar styles as the associate director of Hidden Voices, a North Carolina-based nonprofit that strives to tell the stories of underrepresented groups. The unique aspect Hidden voices brings to the stage is their actors. The plays are all acted out by the people who are experiencing the story, meaning there are no real “actors.”

Since 2013 she has been working on “SERVING LIFE,” a play about men on death row that encapsulates their struggles with facing impending death, how their actions have affected their family and societal beliefs about humanity and forgiveness. 

Hunter-Williams described the day the play came to life as powerful and surreal. She said seeing the capabilities of the men on death row was joyous.

“The pride that the men felt having achieved it, and these are pieces of words that they wrote, and things that we helped them put together, I mean, that was really the power of theater,”  Hunter-Williams said.

Lynden Harris, the founder and director of Hidden Voices, credits Hunter-Williams' ability to connect with all types of people as one of her most valuable assets. She described how Hunter-Williams was able to create a sense of community with 12 men on death row through the use of theater games like “Bunny Bunny.”

“She would get everybody out of their seats, and we would play the game," Harris said. "It was hilarious because we are in there with ... 12 men who’ve convicted of murder and playing theater games.”

It is that ability, and sense of humanity that allows Hunter-Williams to connect with many people and tell some of the most challenging stories.

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