LaShanna R. Tripp

LaShanna R. Tripp is a Theatre Arts Educator with the Jefferson County School district. A publicist, spoken word and voice-over artist, writer, songwriter, actress and director, she founded Wordz & Rhythmz LLC (W&R LLC) in 2002, and collaborates with directors and artists throughout Birmingham. Also a published writer, LaShanna’s autobiographical excerpt, “What If God Said ‘No?’” appears in Tavis Smiley’s book, Keeping The Faith: Stories of Love, Courage, Healing, and Hope from Black America, which garnered the 2003 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Nonfiction.


Mary Elizabeth Neal

Mary Elizabeth Neal is a native of Birmingham, Alabama.  She earned her Master of Music in Composition from The Florida State University in 2008 and her Bachelor of Music in Composition from Birmingham-Southern College in 2006.  Mary Elizabeth is deeply committed to music education at all levels of development.  She currently teaches music theory, aural skills, counterpoint, composition, and analysis at Birmingham-Southern College and preschool music at the Highlands United Methodist Church Child Development Center.  Mary Elizabeth also sings in the Highland’s United Methodist Church choir and is a featured soloist and assistant conductor.  She lives in Helena with her dog, four cats, two frogs, and a turtle.

Mary Kaiser

Mary Kaiser teaches writing and literature at Jefferson State Community College. She has been knitting all her life, and has been spinning and dyeing yarn and designing patterns for fifteen years. Her designs have appeared in Socks-Socks-Socks (XRX Publishing, 1998) and The Twisted Sisters Knit Sweaters (Interweave Press, 2007) . Mary is on the board of the Greater Birmingham Fiber Guild. Her column Knitting Life has appeared in Interweave Knits, and she blogs about knitting, reading, and life at Mrs. Ramsey’s Knitting,



Melissa Turnage

Melissa Turnage has been a teaching artist for dance in multiple cities along the Eastern Seaboard.  Being a professional ballet dancer lead to the transition as teacher.  After owning her own schools in Georgia she moved to the Baltimore area where she taught and directed dance programs for 17 years.  In 2004 she returned to Birmingham, her hometown, where she became an Artist Educator for the Birmingham Cultural Alliance, the Birmingham Board of Education and a Dana Artist with the Alabama Institute for Education in the Arts. A graduate of the University of Alabama, Melissa’s experience in performing and teaching dance spans over 40 years. Melissa is trained in both ballet, modern dance and creative movement. She  has taught dance for multiple organizations since moving back to  Birmingham doing both community dance education and outreach. She also is currently teaching ballet at Birmingham Southern College, and teaches dance at ArtPlay and with ArtCare at UAB Hospital.




Michelle Reynolds

Michelle Reynolds, a contributing writer for Alabama Gardener Magazine, is a self-taught naturalist and plant enthusiast. She serves on the Board of Directors at Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve and on the Advisory Board of Birmingham Audubon. She has spent the last three years spearheading the native plant restoration and rain garden projects at the LEED certified Ruffner Mountain Nature Center. She also works as an Outdoor Classroom Consultant for the Alabama Wildlife Federation. She leads garden programs at Ruffner Mountain, Audubon Mountain Workshop, Birmingham area botanical gardens, and local garden clubs. A contributing writer and blogger for Alabama Gardener Magazine, she profiles unique gardens in the Birmingham area. When she is not talking, working, writing, or thinking about gardening, she is designing and making slipcovers and nature inspired fabric art in the studio behind her house. Lately, her business, Coverings, has been taking a back seat to her more naturalist leanings.


Pat Bowman Billups

Pat Bowman Billups is a piano teacher of some 34 years in the Birmingham community.   She is passionate about teaching the skills that prepare students of all ages to play piano, compose music, and develop their individual music goals and creativity.  She currently serves as the state chair of Alabama Junior Music Festivals under the auspices of the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC).  In Alabama’s District II (Birmingham), she serves as chair of the Theory Festival and has worked with the state chair of the Junior Composer Festival.  These festivals offer opportunities for young musicians to compete in various areas of music.  Previously, she served for 13 years in the position of coordinator for City Stages Jazz Camp.  She also serves as the choir director at First Baptist Church Graymont.


Sarah Heath

Sarah Heath received her BFA in sculpture from the University of Kansas and her MFA from the University of Georgia Lamar Dodd School of Art, where she graduated with distinction. While in Georgia Sarah was the gallery coordinator for the Georgia Sculptors Society and an active member of the Lamar Dodd School of Art Student Advisory Board. In the past 6 years Sarah has shown in 27 art exhibitions in 8 states across the US. In 2009 she won a “Gold Metal in Fine Arts” Award from Creative Quarterly magazine and was listed in their “New Talent Gallery.” In 2010 she won the Athens Classic Center purchase award from the Juried Athens Sculpture Festival. Sarah has given artist lectures at Salem Art Works in New York, Piedmont College, Lamar Dodd School of Art and the Athens Institute for Contemporary Art in Georgia.  She has been an artist in residence at Sloss Metal Arts in Birmingham Al, and Salem Art Works in Salem NY.

You can view other works by Sarah at


Sharrif Simmons

Sharrif Simmons is a performance artist, songwriter and activist who’s writing career has spanned more than two decades. Beginning in the early 90’s, his prophetic poetry has remained relevant over the years.  His education as a writer began at the famed Liberation Bookstore on 131st St. & Lenox Avenue in Harlem New York. Founded by his Great Aunt, Una Mulza; the bookstore served the Harlem community for over 35 years, 5 of which found Sharrif spending his days there as a book salesman.

Sharrif Simmons became a staple in New York’s cultural art scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Several galleries and Cafés began showcasing his poetry and music on any given night. Poets and emcees like Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Saul Williams,Asha Bandele, Mike Ladd and Jessica Care Moore, who would eventually publish his first book of poetry Fast Cities and Objects That Burn, would often share the stage with him, helping to develop what has now become “The Movement”.

Sharrif has toured Europe extensively, from 1996 through the present. He has performed in Amsterdam, Holland, Berlin, Germany, Toulouse, France, London England, Glasgow, Scotland and most recently in Antwerp, Belgium at the popular performance venue Nuff Said.

Not long after relocating to Birmingham in 2005, he made a guest appearance on Russell Simmons presents HBO’s DEF POETRY JAM. His highly anticipated debut CD the ECHOEFFECT was released that same year.

Sharrif has appeared in several feature length films including, New Line Cinema’s Panther, directed by Marion Van Peebles, Slam, directed by Marc Levine,the feature length documentary Hughes Dream, presented by Bravo and Black StarZ Networks respectively. In 2009 he was nominated for an Emmy award for his work on the soundtrack of the documentary film “Thornton Dial Has Something to Say.” The following year Sharrif co-founded the Birmingham Arts and Music festival. (BAAMFEST).

Currently, Sharrif resides in Birmingham, Alabama with his 19 year Old son Omari Jazz


Sunny Davenport

Sunny Davenport is a native of Birmingham, attended Birmingham schools, and received a Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy from the University of Alabama. She completed her clinical internship at HEALSOUTH Lakeshore Rehabilitation Hospital and became a nationally board-certified music therapist in 1998. She is experienced in providing music therapy to people with a wide range of neurological, physical, and emotional disorders. Sunny pioneered the Music Therapy Department at UAB Medical Center and guided its development and growth from 1999 to 2011. In 2012, she started Music Therapy of Alabama, LLC.

Sunny’s passion is teaching music (piano, guitar and voice) and providing music therapy to children and young adults with special needs. She is an instructor for Dance Trance, a national dance fitness program. Sunny is married to Peter Davenport. They have two sons.



Susan holds an MFA in theatre from the University of Alabama and has served Jacksonville State University with emphasis in directing and performance. She has published with “Southern Theatre”, adjudicated for the Kennedy Center Association for College Theatre, and presented intensives such as “Creative Culture—Developing “Th BURNING” and “The Real Method with Anna Strasberg.

A member of SAG-Aftra and Actors’ Equity, Susan worked and studied professionally on the west coast—coordinating Screen Actors Guild with The American Film Institute and working with industry notables such as Kathy Fields Lander and Sean Penn. Lee Strasberg became her mentor. His tutelage remains at the heart of her teaching— revealing simple yet immense truths of the human condition. Susan “celebrates the art within each of us and facilitates its most pure and profound expression.”



Trent Thomas

Trent Thomas (b. 1980) works as a painter, book artist & art teacher in his native Birmingham, AL. Beginning in the mid-00’s, Trent studied art at the University of Birmingham at Alabama, achieving a Bachelor of Arts in 2009.  In that time, he exhibited in several shows in the area, including a solo show, “Everybody (Almost)”, a collection of portraits in 2008. Trent has also conducted lectures, classes and workshops in several universities, high schools, and for area art associations, as well as at Forstall Art Center.  He resides in Birmingham, Alabama.



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