FOUNDER & ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
Heather Wahl, Executive Producer, Votes for Women
Jennie Contuzzi, Playwright, Votes for Women
Diana Basmajian, Film Director
Amy Albert, Founder and Board Chair, Haven
Kim Bollard, Executive Director, True Mentors
Bess Morrison, Board Member, Welcome Home
Afaf Durriyah Muhammad, Jersey City School Board
Cynthia Renta, Executive Director, Educational Arts Team
AMY ALBERT (FOUNDER AND BOARD CHAIR, HAVEN) Amy Albert is a lawyer and troublemaker who grew up in the Boston area. Her family says that she started doing activist work because her mom dropped her on her head when she was 8 months old at a rally against Nestle- a company that was using unsavory marketing practices to get women in Africa to make their babies dependent on the formula they couldn't afford. She has been involved in a range of civil rights, feminist and political projects throughout her life. Amy has been a lawyer for 22 years and has done a range of government and public interest work. She is the Managing Attorney for Eviction and Foreclosure Defense at the Waterfront Project for work and is the founder of Haven Adolescent Community Respite Center where she is now Chair of the Board. Amy is mother to James, age 11 and she and her husband, Sean, do their best to raise him in partnership.
KIMBERLY BOLLARD (EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, TRUE MENTORS; BOARD SECRETARY, SPERANZA THEATRE COMPANY) is the Executive Director of True Mentors, a nonprofit that provides mentorship, field trips, and group activities for underserved youth in Hudson County. She is also an actress, writer, and acting teacher in her spare time. A graduate of Douglass Residential Women's College at Rutgers University, she is a proud feminist and is passionate about sharing women's stories.
JANINE BROWN has been an educator in the Jersey City Public School District for over 10 years. She currently serves as a crisis intervention teacher at Dickinson HS and uses restorative justice practices to challenge traditional systems of education. Recognizing a need for more equitable and culturally responsive programming for youth of color, she birthed Brown Brilliance, LLC -a consulting entity that provides SEL workshops for youth and professional development for youth service workers. Her workshops and curriculum are being implemented within various juvenile facilities. She is the former founding program director for Haven Adolescent Center where she was responsible for program design, delivery and engagement and is a former Teacher of the Year. She intends to continue changing the landscape of urban education for future generations.
AFAF DURRIYAH MUHAMMAD (JERSEY CITY SCHOOL BOARD) is a lifelong resident of Jersey City. Her parents Waly H. Muhammad and Jo Ann Disdier Figueroa are known for their community service in teaching Spanish and Arabic languages, art, and nutrition classes. Throughout her childhood years, she resided in many areas of Jersey City which gave her the opportunity to attend public and private schools. She graduated from Dickinson Adult Night School. Afaf began her work experience at the age of 12 delivering newspapers, then in her teen years as a short order cook. She returned to school to earn her certification in Architectural Interior Design at The Plaza School of Technology. She was employed at Florlift of New Jersey, and then moved on in her journey to hold positions in telecommunications, and security, and volunteered in instructing art to children in her community. She gained experience in middle management at the Gap and Starbucks. During her unemployment, Afaf took the opportunity to attend free trainings that were offered through Jersey City, by the Partners in Prevention, to train in Pharmacology and Physiology, Perinatal/Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Assessment, Assessment Tools, Intro to Counseling, Counseling Skills, and Crisis Intervention; became a Mental Health First Aid Instructor through the Mental Health First Aid training provided by Healthier JC and Jersey City Department of Health and Human Services; became a Minister for the Universal Life Church; became a certified Parent as Champions for healthy schools through trainings provided by the Statewide Parent Advocacy Network through Jersey City Public Schools; started a news blog HudInfoNews which highlights the positive impact of organizations in Hudson County and social justice issues; and attended Argosy University online for two years towards her Bachelors in Psychology. Afaf also served on advisory boards for Haven Adolescent Community Respite Center, and I Love Greenville; served as Trustee on the Marion Gardens Resident Council and Resident Advisory Board; volunteered her artistic skills to support teachers and students with social-emotional trauma and conflict resolution at public school 24, and as a Classroom Hero at public school 15. Afaf has been awarded for her Parent Leadership at P.S 23 (2016-17) and as a City of Jersey City Woman of Action (2019).
BESS MORRISON (BOARD MEMBER, WELCOME HOME; BOARD PRESIDENT, SPERANZA THEATRE COMPANY) started her career singing opera, but has spent most of her time performing in musical theater both in the US and Europe. She has taught voice at the Eugene O’Neill Center’s National Theater Institute, as well as privately in New York City. She continues to teach both voice and piano in her Jersey City studio. When looking for a way to teach English to refugees in 2016, she found Welcome Home, and fell in love with the work and the people. Bess Co-Chairs the Employment and Education Committee with her husband Fred Miller. Bess joined the Board in 2018.
CYNTHIA RENTA (EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EDUCATIONAL ARTS TEAM) A native of Jersey City, Cynthia Renta is the Executive Director of Educational Arts Team. Previously, she was senior community school director for the Center for Supportive Schools. In this role, she directed the community school strategy across five schools in Jersey City. Prior to that, Cynthia also directed the Newark YMCA (Jersey City based satellite office), implementing 21st Century Learning Centers' after-school and summer camp programming that served children and families across Jersey City. She possesses over twenty-years of experience creating, producing and directing community-participatory art programming as an artist, teaching artist and non-profit leader in Jersey City, the California Bay Area, and New York City. She has primarily focused on social equity, creative placemaking, youth development, restorative practices, and parent and community engagement.
HEATHER WAHL (FOUNDING ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, SPERANZA THEATRE COMPANY) is the founding artistic director of Speranza Theatre Company - awarded the 2022 Arts Organization of the Year by the Jersey City Arts Council and a proud member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance. Heather has produced 17 full length plays, numerous original educational plays, countless staged readings, directed and/or choreographed 50+ productions, and acted in 100+ shows from off-Broadway to regional work in 36 of the contiguous United States. Speranza Producer Highlights: WALK BY THE WAY OF THE MOON; VOTES FOR WOMEN; WOMEN RISING STORIES OF HOPE; UNVEILING LIBERTY; JANEY MILLER’S WORLD TOUR; A PIECE OF MY HEART; THE VAGINA MONOLOGUES; and THE DAUGHTERS OF EVE. Acting Highlights include: A PIECE OF MY HEART (Speranza Theatre); LOOSE KNIT (Centenary Stage); A BODY OF WATER (Garage Theatre); THE DAUGHTERS OF EVE (Speranza/Cherry Lane); SCENES FROM AN EXECUTION (59E59); A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM (dir. Austin Pendleton); and Anne Boleyn in REX (world premiere revival). She holds an MFA in Acting from The New School for Drama and a BFA in Dance with a minor in Women’s Studies. Proud member of Actors Equity Association and SAG/AFTRA.
JENNIE CONTUZZI (MANAGING DIRECTOR, PLAYWRIGHT - VOTES FOR WOMEN) Managing Director of Speranza Theatre Company and a member of New Perspectives Theatre Company Women’s Playwriting Lab. Shows for Speranza include VOTES FOR WOMEN, WOMEN RISING STORIES OF HOPE; UNVEILING LIBERTY (with Charlotte Rahn-Lee); MILLICENT THE MAGNIFICENT. Jennie also works as a teaching artist for Speranza and curates most of Speranza's reading series and festivals.
DIANA BASMAJIAN (MODERATOR, FILM DIRECTOR - VOTES FOR WOMEN, BOARD TREASURER) Diana Basmajian is an innovative and versatile media strategist and communications coach. With a background in theatre and broadcast production, Diana guides media startups and nonprofit arts companies, such as NJ Theatre Alliance member Speranza Theatre Company, on their brand storytelling and identity.
Diana has been privileged to direct and write for live theatre, as well as direct the filming of live productions for broadcast and streaming media. As a stage director and coach, Diana has directed and coached numerous Tony and Emmy Award winners and nominees at premiere venues across the United States. She serves on the boards of several nonprofits, including Speranza Theatre Company. Diana is a proud graduate of Northwestern University. Fellowships and awards include the Leopold Schepp Foundation, LCU Foundation, and The New School for Drama, where she received her MFA in Directing. She also has a certificate in Executive Coaching from Columbia University. For more information, please visit dianabasma.com.
Speranza Theatre Company is a non-profit women's theatre company and member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance. Founded to provide an opportunity for artists, particularly females, to share their voices through entertaining and challenging theatre, Speranza presents professional theatrical performances, free readings of new works, and educational programming.
Jersey City Cultural Affairs and City of Jersey City
Brittany R Kelly
The Cast and Crew of Votes For Women film
The Alice Paul Institute Staff
The Museum of Jersey City History
Crystal Davis/ Crystal Letters
Smarty Skirts Media
Speranza Board of Directors
Bess Morrison, President
Heather Wahl, Artistic Director
Jennie Contuzzi, Managing Director
Diana Basmajian, Treasurer
Kim Bollard, Secretary
Speranza Advisory Board
This program is made possible by support from Jersey City Office of Cultural Affairs, Hudson Country Cultural Arts, The Princeton Area Community Foundation, and a grant from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a division of the Department of State, and administered by the Hudson County Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs, Thomas A. DeGise, Hudson County Executive & the Hudson County Board of County Commissioners.