About Culture Jam

Culture Jam is an annual student-led and produced conference focused on diversity. It is designed to empower students to have courageous conversations alongside their peers. Culture Jam offers a safe, inclusive space for high school students to discuss equity-related issues that are present in schools, the Pittsburgh region, and the global community.

Centered on social justice issues and core cultural identifiers such as race, gender, religion, sexuality, socio-economic status, family structure, and more, Culture Jam gives high school students a unique opportunity to connect with one another and learn how to ignite the sparks of authentic change. Organized and helmed by The Ellis School’s Student Diversity League, Culture Jam 2024 will take place on January 12, 2024, marking the conference's 20th anniversary.

This year's theme is Creating Peace from Peril, and it will focus on the ability to reimagine hardships as opportunities for growth. Culture Jam will provide a safe space for participants to explore their struggles, find solutions, and ultimately feel empowered to take charge of their negative experiences and notice that there is always a way out. The Student Diversity League will provide resources and support to help participants through difficult times and hopes to inspire Culture Jam attendees to create meaningful change in their lives and communities.

2024 Culture Jam Schedule

7:30–8:10 a.m.
Registration & Music
Upper School Lobby & Janet’s Gym
8:10–8:20 a.m.
Welcome & Introduction
Janet’s Gym
8:20–8:50 a.m.
Step In Activity
Janet’s Gym
8:50–9:10 a.m.
Janet’s Gym
9:10–9:55 a.m.
Spectrum Activity
Janet’s Gym
10:00–10:30 a.m.
Workshop Block 1
Various Classrooms
10:35–11:05 a.m.
Workshop Block 2
Various Classrooms
11:10–11:35 a.m.
Affinity Groups Round 1
Various Classrooms
11:35 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Lunch & Games 
Various Classrooms
12:30–12:55 p.m.
Affinity Groups Round 2
Various Classrooms
1:00–2:00 p.m.
Panel Discussion
2:00–2:15 p.m.
Break/Leon Ford Book Signing
Auditorium & Gallery
2:15–3:00 p.m.
Talent Show
3:00–3:05 p.m.
Closing Remarks
3:05–3:10 p.m.
Back Lot

*Please note: Schedule is subject to change.

About Our 2024 Guest Speakers

List of 3 items.

  • Susan Baida

    Susan Baida
    is the Executive Director of the Collaboratory Against Hate (CAH), an academic center whose mission is to help understand and mitigate targeted violence stemming from group hate. A partnership between Carnegie Mellon University and the University Pittsburgh, it was formed as part of the community response to the Pittsburgh synagogue tragedy in October 2018. She works closely with academics and community partners on research and interventions to help reduce targeted violence and foster less division and more collaboration. Prior to this role, she served as Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at UPMC where she developed a system-wide strategy that helped increase workforce diversity, minimize health inequities for underserved communities, and deepen community partnerships. During the first half of her career, she was a global marketing executive for Fortune 500 companies in the cosmetics and hotel industry and then left corporate life to co-found a healthcare technology venture addressing the needs of family caregivers of aging parents. Parallel to her career, she volunteered in her community serving as an appointee to Manhattan Community Board, an advisory board to the NYC Mayor's office where she chaired the Human Services committee and passed resolutions to address affordable housing, same sex marriage, class size reduction, homelessness, etc. She currently serves on the board of directors for Women's Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, La Promesa Foundation, and the Pine Richland Anti-Racist Parent Coalition. She graduated from Emory University with a B.A. in Liberal Studies. She received executive leadership training from Vassar College and DEI leadership certification from Inclusant, LLC. She is the mother of Avery Mills (Ellis Class of 2026), her twin sons, Cameron and Julian, and their beagle, Sophie.
  • Leon Ford

    Pittsburgh native Leon Ford is a celebrated author, social entrepreneur, impact investor, international speaker, and changemaker dedicated to driving positive change in his community and beyond. As a respected activist and mental health ambassador, Ford passionately addresses disparities by focusing on holistic wellness. His inspiring approach emphasizes the importance of resilience, transforming personal challenges into purpose, and creating a lasting societal impact.

    In 2012, Ford was tragically shot five times by a police officer during a racially charged traffic stop, leaving him physically paralyzed. Nevertheless, he has continued to positively impact his community, working with police officers on cultural competency and legislators on drafting policies to modify the use of force laws.

    In 2022, Leon joined forces with former Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Chief Scott Schubert to co-found The Hear Foundation. This trailblazing nonprofit seeks to bridge the gap between residents, community leaders, and law enforcement, cultivating a safe and thriving community for all. In recognition of its innovative approach, the foundation received the prestigious McNulty Catalyst Prize in 2023. Ford has also joined 150+ other leaders as a Founding Partner of Starts With Us—a movement to end the culture wars by fostering curiosity, compassion, and courage as daily habits.

    As an influential figure in social justice and mental health, Ford inspires others through speaking engagements, mentorship, and fostering open dialogue. Through his work, he cultivates leaders, organizers, and social entrepreneurs, ensuring his vision for a compassionate and just society endures for future generations.

    Ford's accomplishments include: executive producing the Cannes Film Festival award-winning documentary Leon (2019) and Breaking Bread: A Conversation on Race in America (2021), which won a Shorty Award; President Obama's Volunteer Service Award (2017); The Root 100 (2018); Pittsburgh's 40 Under 40 (2019); Forbes 30 Under 30 (2023);  and the National Urban League Community Service Award (2023).

    As a member of The Aspen Institute's Inaugural Civil Society Fellowship, Ford is devoted to nurturing the next generation of leaders and activists. He serves as an entrepreneur in residence for Bronze Investments, is co-founder of the Leon Ford Legacy Fund, and holds board positions with multiple organizations.

    In addition to his activism, Ford has authored valuable resources for overcoming adversity and promoting well-being, such as the memoir An Unspeakable Hope (May 2023), Untold: Testimony and Guide to Overcoming Adversity (2017), and The Leon Self Care Handbook: From Surviving to Thriving, offering practical tools for healing and personal growth.
  • Hanifa Nakiryowa

    Hanifa Nakiryowa
    is originally from Uganda and is an active member of the Pittsburgh community. She is a very passionate advocate for women's and children’s rights and represents women’s voices on different platforms both locally and internationally. She is a TEDx speaker and uses her experience surviving a brutal acid attack in Uganda to raise awareness of the systemic human rights violations that disproportionately affect women and children.

    Hanifa is a passionate human rights activist who founded a nonprofit CERESAV in Uganda to raise voices against human rights violations and abuses and to mobilize resources to support the medical care and rehabilitation of acid attack survivors, support the education of their children, and promote their economic livelihoods. Through this work, Hanifa spearheaded an online petition that led to the passing of the Toxic Chemicals Prohibition and Control Bill into law by the Government of Uganda in 2016.

    Hanifa is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs with a master's degree in International Development and Human Security Studies and continues her advocacy work at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Culture Jam Attendee Pledge

To help make Culture Jam a safe and productive experience for everyone here, I pledge to:
  1. Listen, and keep an open mind to learning from someone new.
  2. Speak, and help educate others about my personal experiences with diversity and judgment.
  3. Care, by being sensitive, respectful, and understanding of others.
  4. Try, by being courageous and patient, and engaging with difficult topics maturely.
  5. Act, by finding a way, great or small, to work against the culture of judgment in my school and community.

About the Student Diversity League

List of 3 items.

  • 2024 Student Diversity League Leaders

    President - Nadia Commodore, Class of 2024
    Vice President - Zaitun Kirabo, Class of 2025
    Culture Jam Committee Leaders - Zoi Sledge, Class of 2025, and Khyla Herbert, Class of 2026
    Community Education Committee Leader - Rebekah Rapp, Class of 2024
  • About the Student Diversity League

    The goal of the Student Diversity League at The Ellis School is to provide opportunities for students to learn, dialogue, connect with each other, and take action about issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion both within the Ellis community and the larger world outside Ellis.
  • Student Diversity League Mission

    Members of the Student Diversity League (SDL) are committed to raising awareness about current diversity-related topics in an effort to emphasize the value and beauty of diversity. They encourage open and honest discussion where disagreement is allowed but acceptance is the final destination.

Questions? Please Contact:

List of 1 members.

  • Photo of Denise LaRosa

    Dr. Denise LaRosa 

    Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion