Amir is an educator, author, and civil rights lawyer. He is the founder and volunteer director of Project KnuckleHead, a nonprofit organization empowering youth through music, art, and educational programs since 2013.
Often referred to as "Dr. KnuckleHead," Amir was introduced to the criminal justice system as a child when he visited both his mother and father in prison. At age 15, Amir himself was arrested and entered the juvenile justice system. Problems at school eventually led to him being expelled. Despite these hardships, Amir went on to complete five college degrees.
As a lawyer referred to as a "civil rights and education stalwart" by the Daytona Times, Amir has negotiated settlements and policy changes that have improved the lives of thousands of youth across the country. Amir is currently a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. At the Southern Poverty Law Center, Amir worked on a class action lawsuit on behalf of incarcerated youth receiving inadequate education, mental health, and rehabilitation services. Within the Juvenile Division of the Miami-Dade County Public Defender‘s Office, Amir represented incarcerated youth and developed training materials. He has taught varying grade levels and in different educational settings for over a decade, and has held teaching certifications in Florida, California, and New Jersey. He has delivered keynote speeches to thousands, and written for leading publications across the country, including TIME Magazine. Amir’s recently released autobiography has been featured on ABC News and in The New Yorker. Amir is the current board chair for the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network in Los Angeles, a collaborative of 12 organizations providing arts programming to incarcerated youth throughout the county. He received his doctorate in Educational Psychology from the University of Southern California, juris doctorate from the University of Miami, and his bachelors from Rutgers University.
Sofia Klatzker, Treasurer / Finance Chair, Executive Committee
Executive Director, Roman Mars Foundation
Sofia Klatzker is the President of the newly formed Roman Mars Foundation, as well as Vice President of Strategic Development for 99% Invisible. Previously she served as the executive director of Arts for LA, the Director of Grants and Professional Development at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and key staff member and architect of the County's public arts education initiative, Arts for All. She has served as a consultant for the City of Los Angeles, City of Santa Monica, Alameda County Arts Commission, and Californians for the Arts, and a committee member of the California Alliance for Arts Education Policy Council, strategic advisor to the Cultural Data Project, and Co-chair of the LA Arts Funders group. She was a teaching artist at the Museum of Contemporary Arts, the J. Paul Getty Center, and Community Arts Resources. Sofia is the Advocacy Committee Board Chair for Californians for the Arts, Treasurer for the Board of the Arts for Incarcerated Youth, and a founding board member of the Culver City Cultural Foundation. She was a 2013 Leadership LA Fellow, and is a graduate of Oberlin Conservatory and the Goucher Masters in Arts Administration.
Melissa Denton, Members Committee Chair, Executive Committee
Executive Director, Unusual Suspects Theatre Company
Melissa Denton has dedicated the past 10 years creating pathways for social and emotional development through theater arts, to LA’s hardest-to-reach youth and families. As Executive Director of The Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, she represents US as a thought leader in various capacities, including the First International Teaching Artist Conference in Oslo, Norway, and has designed and facilitated performance based training workshops for corporate and nonprofit clients, such as the Dramatist Guild of America, Shepard Symposium on Social Justice, and the Satyagraha Institute’s Nonviolent Training Program.
Prior to her role at US, Melissa served as Project Coordinator with New York City’s Roundabout Theatre Company, managing 25 teaching artists at Bronx Theatre High School. She has worked as a teaching artist for various arts organizations in NYC, including the Guggenheim Museum. Melissa holds a Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management from Antioch University, Los Angeles and a Bachelor’s in Theatre-Mass Communications from South Dakota State University.
Board at Large
Director of Operations, The Actors’ Gang Prison Project / Teaching Artist / Actor
In 2010 Ms. Carner became a company member of The Actors' Gang allowing her passion for creating and community to find a home. Her acting credits with the company include Tartuffe, Lysistrata, and The New Colossus, which the company toured in 3 cities in South America. In 2015 Ms. Carner was honored to take on the role of Manager of The Prison Project where she oversees the daily operations and finances for prison programming. Since then, The Actors’ Gang Prison Project has grown from offering programming in four prisons to thirteen prisons on fifteen yards, added two reentry programs (for both women and men), a juvenile program for incarcerated youth and a pilot program for Correctional Officers. Before her managerial appointment, she volunteered and worked as a teaching artist for three years.
Chris Henrikson, Reentry and Fellowship Chair
Founder and Executive Director, Street Poets, Inc.
Chris Henrikson is the founder and executive director of Street Poets Inc. He has over 20 years of experience teaching and mentoring youth and young adults in, around and beyond the Los Angeles County juvenile probation system.
Leslie Ito, Governance Chair
Executive Director, Armory Center for the Arts
Leslie A. Ito is highly regarded as one of the most skillful, entrepreneurial arts executives in the Los Angeles region with over 20 years of proven leadership and fundraising expertise to her credit. Ito's reputation for cultural "bridge-building" and advocacy underscores her deep commitment to arts equity and access for all people.
She is currently the Executive Director of the Armory Center for the Arts. Prior to this position, she was the President & CEO of the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, one of the largest ethnic arts and cultural centers of its kind in the U.S. She has also held the position of Program Director for Arts and Health at the California Community Foundation, and Director of Grant Programs at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. She has served as Executive Director of Visual Communications, the nation’s premiere Asian American media arts organization, and as Program Associate in the Media, Arts Culture Division at the Ford Foundation in New York. Ms. Ito served on the Board of Directors for Americans for the Arts, TELIC Arts Exchange in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and Films By Youth Inside (FYI Films), inspiring incarcerated youth through filmmaking. She is also a co-founder of the LA Asian American and Pacific Islander Giving Circle. In 2016, Ito was awarded the prestigious Stanton Fellowship from the Durfee Foundation. In 2019, she and her husband, Steven Y. Wong, artist/curator, received the Cultural Leadership Award from the Vincent Price Art Museum.
A native of Los Angeles, Ms. Ito received an M.A. in Asian American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles and a B.A. in American Studies from Mount Holyoke College. Leslie & Steve have two children and live in South Pasadena.
Kaile Shilling is honored to be the Executive Director of the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN). In her role with AIYN she co-founded CREATE JUSTICE, a national gathering focusing on the intersection of arts and youth justice reform done in partnership with Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Kaile brings over fifteen years experience working in and with nonprofits, particularly those focused on building strong young people. Prior to the AIYN, she served as Executive Director for the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, an organization serving hundreds of nonprofits across Los Angeles County promoting networking and collaboration among community- and faith-based organizations focusing on re-framing violence as an issue of public health, rather than criminal justice. Prior to the VPC, Kaile worked at Homeboy Industries, one of the leading gang intervention agencies in the nation.
She holds a Bachelor of Science in Social Anthropology from Harvard University, where she focused on the role of the arts as a means of expressing and shifting social values, and a Master of Theological Studies from Loyola Marymount University.
Carter Stewart, Chair of Growth and Replication
Managing Director at Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation
Carter Stewart is a Managing Director at Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation. He supports investment selection, builds portfolio support, cultivates fund development and drives strategic and operational leadership. Stewart comes to DRK from the U.S. Department of Justice where he served as the presidentially-appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio. In this role, Stewart was responsible for prosecuting federal crime in a district comprised of 5.5 million people, which included Columbus, Cincinnati, and Dayton. In this role, Stewart emphasized deterrence, crime prevention and alternatives to incarceration. He created the district’s first community outreach position and established a community leadership committee geared towards building trust and improving communication between the public and law enforcement. He created the district’s first diversion program to allow individuals a means of avoiding a felony record while still being held accountable for their wrong-doing. Stewart took a leadership role at DOJ in addressing inequities in the criminal justice system through his work raising awareness about the school to prison pipeline and by chairing a working group of U.S. Attorneys focused on reducing racial disparities in the federal system. Stewart also served on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee and chaired the Attorney General’s Child Exploitation Working Group. Stewart previously served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in San Jose, CA, and he was a litigator at Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP in Columbus, OH and Bingham McCutchen LLP in San Francisco, CA. His arts background includes playing "Hortensio" in The Taming of the Shrew for the Los Altos Theater company in 2004.
Prior to law school, Stewart was a New York City Urban Fellow and then taught history at Friends Seminary High School and in the Prep for Prep program.
Stewart received a J.D. degree from Harvard Law School. He holds a Master of Arts Degree in Education Policy from Columbia University and received his undergraduate degree in Political Science from Stanford University. After law school, Stewart clerked for the Honorable Robert L. Carter, U.S. District Judge in the Southern District of New York and the Honorable Raymond L. Finch, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of the Virgin Islands.
Founder and Executive Director, Write Girl / Bold Ink
Keren Taylor, Executive Director of WriteGirl, has been a community leader for two decades. In 2001, she founded the nonprofit WriteGirl to pair women writers with underserved girls for creative writing workshops, one-on-one mentoring, and college readiness guidance. The Bold Ink Writers program, a division of WriteGirl, trains men and women writers to be creative writing mentors for boys and co-ed groups.
Founder and Executive Director, Rhythm Arts Alliance
Executive Director and professional musician Peter David Walden began his work in Probation nine years ago helping to co-found Rhythm Arts Alliance. Today, RAA reaches throughout Los Angeles County, and under Peter’s guidance seeks to fulfill their mission of helping communities live out loud.
Scott Ward, Advisory Council Chair
CONSULTANT / MANAGER / DEVELOPER
In 2018, after 17 years, Scott Ward left his position as the Executive Director of the Armory Center for the Arts to advance independent projects. Located in Pasadena, this community-based organization is committed to creating, teaching and presenting the arts for all ages and backgrounds. Programs include exhibition and performance, on-site sequential education, art experiences in the community, school residencies, and professional development for teachers and artists. Previously, Mr. Ward worked as the Executive Director of the Palos Verdes Arts Center (1997-2001), Executive Director of the Downey Museum of Art (1987-1996), and Gallery Director of the University Art Gallery at CSU San Bernardino (1983-1985). He often serves as a grants panelist for organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, Los Angeles County Arts Commission, California Arts Council, Los Angeles Department for Cultural Affairs, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Wallace Foundation. Mr. Ward is also an accomplished curator and educator who has taught at CSU San Bernardino, Chaffey College, and Loyola Marymount University. He is frequently invited to speak and consult on a wide range of issues and topics related to Art and Community. He received an MFA in Photography from the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) and a BA in Aesthetic Studies from UC Santa Cruz.