Senior Fellows

The Collaborative’s Senior Fellows are positioned to deepen and expand our collective work to advance a sustainable ‘pop culture for social change infrastructure’ and advance our mission to popularize authentic narratives for people of color, Muslims, immigrants and refugees in the media.  

Maytha Alhassen

Maytha Alhassen

Senior Fellow

Maytha Alhassen is a Syrian-American journalist, poet and scholar, working to bridge the worlds of social justice, academic research, popular culture and artistic expression.   Alhassen has performed and wrote for “Hijabi Monologues” and worked with Blackout Arts Collective to support the development of art and poetry projects for incarcerated youth.

As a Senior Fellow, Alhassen will lead a project to unlock new pathways to create and popularize authentic narratives for Muslim, Arab and South Asian (MASA) people in pop culture. She will curate a cohort of MASA stakeholders across advocacy, social justice, philanthropic, entertainment, marketing, and other fields to engage in a yearlong culture change learning and narrative strategy design process.

(Follow Maytha @maythaphd)

Read Maytha’s groundbreaking report, “Haqq and Hollywood: 100 Years of Muslim Tropes and How to Transform Them”

Luis Castro

Luis Castro

Senior Fellow: TV Storytelling and Cultural Change

Luis Castro is a highly regarded innovator and strategist whose mission is to fuse storytelling and social impact. He is an independent producer and consultant who brings authentic stories by women and diverse creators to multiple platforms. His unique background working at senior levels in entertainment, philanthropy, and government gives him a fresh and comprehensive perspective on finding original voices and powerful stories that illuminate the kaleidoscope of the American experience—and that build greater inclusion in the entertainment industry.

As a producer, Luis works with storytellers to develop, pitch and produce scripted projects for TV and digital. As a consultant, he works with media companies and nonprofit organizations on creative talent development and inclusion. He advises companies and productions on philanthropic and social responsibility strategy and program development. Over his 25-year career, Luis has built pioneering initiatives that empower creators and communities alike.

Luis was an executive and consultant at HBO in Los Angeles, where he worked across HBO Films, Series and Cinemax to expand the network’s relationships with diverse creators, identify writers for existing shows, and find new scripted projects. Before joining HBO, Luis led corporate grant making as Executive Director of Philanthropic Initiatives at Time Warner in New York City. Among his achievements was the repositioning of the company’s giving to focus on supporting diverse voices in entertainment. His trailblazing approach to corporate philanthropy garnered the media giant multiple awards and national recognition. As Acting Commissioner of the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, Luis oversaw the $30 million City agency charged with supporting and promoting New York’s $8.9 billion film and television industry. He led efforts to create career pathways for New Yorkers into the entertainment industry, including the creation of a training program for diverse editors and a groundbreaking program pairing up-and-coming writers with NYC-based show runners to serve as mentors. Prior to that, Luis served as First Deputy Commissioner, overseeing strategy and day-to-day operations as the agency’s second-in-command.

Before working in the entertainment industry, Luis was Director of Education Policy at the NYC Partnership. There, he devised and executed education initiatives and structured public-private alliances between leading New York corporations, the NYC public school system, and community groups. He began his career in Washington, DC, as a legislative aide to U.S. Senator Paul Simon, where he shaped education and school-to-work policy. He was then named a presidential appointee in the U.S. Department of Education during the Clinton Administration, where he advised on legislative issues and strategy.

Luis is a member of the Board of Directors of New Dramatists and the Sundance Institute Theater Program Advisory Board. He also serves on the Tony Awards Nominating Committee. Luis is a graduate of Harvard University.

Ryan Senser

Ryan Senser

Senior Fellow

Ryan Senser runs a consulting practice — It’s Not Safe Out Here — to help social change organizations reinvent themselves through strategic visioning, planning, narrative architecture and engagement. Ryan has consulted and led projects for a range of private, non-profit and advocacy organizations including Consumer Reports, 32BJ-SEIU, Color Of Change, Planned Parenthood Federation, Ford Foundation, Open Society Foundations, IBM, Starbucks, Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo and the American Heart Association.

As a Senior Fellow, Ryan will work with a key set of creatives, media makers, cultural influencers, justice advocates, academics and thought leaders — to develop a foundational ‘narrative system’ that can be leveraged in medium-to-long-term pop culture strategies built to engage key constituencies in America to hasten a more inclusive society.

Listen to a WONDERLAND podcast with Ryan Senser in conversation with Cristina Jimenez, Executive Director of United We Dream, on “The American Songbook.”

Shawn Taylor

Shawn Taylor

Sr. Manager of Events & Gatherings

Shawn Taylor  is a lifelong science fiction, fantasy, and comic book fan. He is a founding author of, and a founding organizer of the Black Comix Arts Festival. His passion for stories of other worlds led him to an obsession with role-playing games, eventually becoming a paid Dungeon Master for many Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. In high school, he organized a live action D&D battle in his school’s cafeteria. He was suspended for two days for orchestrating the battle, but some folks still talk about it as a highlight of their high school experience.

Shawn just concluded a Senior Fellowship with the Pop Culture Collaborative where he studied how fandom power could be used for social good. Currently his company, Drum and Gourd, is working on a toy line, a collectable card game, and a LARPing system. He also consults for media and gaming companies.

Read Shawn Taylor’s “Black Panther Ignites the Next Generation of Fandom Movements

Listen to a WONDERLAND podcast with Shawn Taylor in conversation with Pop Culture Collaborative Strategy Director Tracy Van Slyke on “Power to the People.”

Zahra Noorbakhsh. Photo by Kim Newmoney

Zahra Noorbakhsh

Senior Fellow

Zahra Noorbakhsh is an award-winning comedian with writing featured on Fresh Air and in The New York Times, and co-hosting credit on the popular podcast #GoodMuslimBadMuslim. The comedy club circuit is responsible for producing some of the most influential narrative drivers of our time. Comedians win Oscars, run for office, respond to crises and controversies in real time, and interpret news and relationship dynamics for millions of viewers. But the journey to become a professional comedian and television comedy writer systematically alienates people of color, women, and people who identify as queer.

Noorbakhsh is about to launch the theatrical world premiere of her new work, “On Behalf of All Muslims: A Comedy Special.

Through this fellowship, Noorbakhsh engaged in the following work:

1) Produced an initial dissemination of her experiences in the comedy circuit to highlight the hurdles she’s overcome and resources she sees as essential for comedians of color and women attempting to navigate the largely white patriarchal systems in the comedy industry.

2) Conducted dozens of informational interviews and at least with aspiring and experienced comedians to map pipeline barriers and recommendations for change.

3) Developed and produced a final presentation showcasing her learnings and recommendations to a cohort of philanthropists, movement leaders, comedians, and industry players.


(Follow Zahra @ZahraComedy)

Former fellows

Jamilah King

Jamilah King

Senior Fellow

Jamilah King is currently the Race and Justice reporter at Mother Jones, having previously worked as a senior staff writer at Mic, and a senior editor at Colorlines. Her writing and reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, Salon, NPR, MSNBC, and in the Advocate.

As a Senior Fellow, Jamilah tested the curation and production of stories, strategies and big ideas at the intersection of pop culture and social justice. She produced two content packages called Break the Story for Pop Culture Collaborative to engage stakeholders and potential change agents in social justice, philanthropy and entertainment, newsletter and social media platforms.  Jamilah’s content focused on critical narrative conversations, big strategy questions and emerging culture change models.

(Follow Jamilah @jamilahking)

Read Volume 1 of Break the Story: Imagining a Future Beyond White Supremacy and Volume 2 of Break the Story: Recentering Power

Erin Potts

Senior Fellow

Erin Potts has worked over the past two decades to create change through culture, to guide organizations & movements towards financial sustainability, and to bring together unusual teams to achieve lofty goals. Erin co-founded with the Beastie Boys the Milarepa Fund and Tibetan Freedom Concerts. She has established and led several nonprofits, including Revolutions Per Minute—a nonprofit agency that supports over 1,300 musicians and comedians making change.

As a Senior Fellow, Erin designed a six-month cohort experience to help a cohort of culture change strategists align their efforts and build a shared process. This included in depth interviews, research and joint planning exercises to expand this cohort’s capacity to work in deep alignment and coordination in their various client/collaborator projects.

(Follow Erin @erin_potts)