Senior Fellows

The Collaborative’s inaugural cohort of Senior Fellows is 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.  

If you, or someone you know would like to explore becoming a Pop Culture Collaborative Senior Fellow, please read more about the program HERE.

Current Fellows
  • 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

    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

    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

    Senior Fellow: Future of Fandoms

    Shawn Taylor is a writer and scholar on Afrofuturism and the ethno-speculative, science fiction, comic books, popular culture, and mythology/folklore. He is the cofounder of the popular geek culture site, and a cofounder of the Black Comix Arts Festival. Shawn is well known in the nerd/geek fandom space, being called to participate on panels and present at events ranging from Pandora’s mixtape series, the Silicon Valley Comic-Con, and various universities. Shawn uses participatory storytelling dimension of fandoms to initiate discussion and action in the real world (e.g. “Oakanda” a three-day on-line conversation exploring connections the “Black Panther” film and Oakland’s Black Panther Party for Self Defense).

    As a Senior Fellow, Shawn will work with various members of fandom communities, creatives, and social movement and industry leaders to explore the various kinds of power fandoms wield, and to develop a set of strategies to better position fandom communities towards influencing social and cultural equity.

    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

    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

    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)

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