RIOTcon, the biennial conference hosted by the InterReligious Institute (IRI) at Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS), is offering an innovative, immersive experience to counter anti-Muslim bias & Christian privilege.

We invite students, organizers, activists, faith leaders, educators, and professionals to this creative conference. Persons of faith and persons of no particular faith are welcome.

Join us for two dynamic days of deep engagement through facilitated cohorts, interactive workshops, artistic performances, and plenary discussions, as participants and presenters generate new understandings and commit to actions to recognize and reduce anti-Muslim bias & Christian privilege in our communities. After the conference, the IRI will follow participants, offering support and tracking the effects of our time together. Come ready to learn, engage, and do the work of creating beloved community.

The Speakers

Alia J. Bilal serves as Director of Community Relations at the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), where she is responsible for cultivating individual donors in order to sustain and advance IMAN’s social justice work, and engaging other institutions around strategic programs and initiatives. Alia is also a volunteer for Ta’leef Collective Chicago, where she teaches the basics of Islamic practice, cultivating fellowship among newcomers to the community. A native of Chicago’s South Side, Alia graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a concentration in Islamic World Studies and is a graduate of the University of Chicago’s Civic Leadership Academy.
Alia J. Bilal
Inner-City Muslim Action Network
Melvin Bray is an Emmy® award-winning storyteller, social entrepreneur, and author who lives with his wife, three kids, and two dogs in southwest Atlanta, GA. He is an active participant in vanguard networks seeking more beautiful, more just, more virtue-filled ways of showing up in the world. He is author of the soon to be bestselling BETTER: Waking Up to Who We Could Be. Melvin works to help communities of goodwill find better stories and scripts–better ways of thinking and doing–that move them toward equity, diversity and inclusion.
Melvin Bray
Collabyrinth Consulting
Liza is a Flint Michigan native, brown girl, artist writer, creative. Born to a family of music lovers. She was raised on the sounds of Motown and old Mexican folk music. She creates in the spirit of gratitude for the ability to do so, and also as a celebration / preservation of protest, of love, of hope. An Emmy Award-nominated poet, vocalist and songwriter, Liza infuses the soul of Mexican folk tunes with the intricacy of Hip Hop rhyme schemes.  She bridges the ancestral with the modern.  With performances including The Lincoln Center, The Apollo, HBO Def Poetry Jam and numerous stages worldwide, diverse people are finding a home in her voice.
Liza Garza
Poet, Vocalist & Songwriter
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is the Combating Bigotry Media Associate with the Security and Rights Collaborative at ReThink Media. Prior to joining ReThink, Guthrie worked at the National Immigration Forum from 2011 to 2015 to mobilize conservative and moderate faith, business, and law enforcement officials in support of comprehensive immigration reform. He holds a BA in International Studies from American University and a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary. His commentary on religion and public life has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, CBS News, Teen Vogue, Religion News Service, ThinkProgress, Sojourners, Religion Dispatches, and other publications. He lives in Louisville, KY.  
Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons
ReThink Media
Born and raised in Tehran in the midst of the tumultuous Iran-Iraq war, Sarvin Haghighi experienced great joys, and harsh challenges. Very quickly, the pendulum would swing from privilege and independence to experiencing war firsthand, and the most basic of freedoms revoked. For Sarvin, the answer was art. At the easel, she captures cherished childhood memories and makes commentary on the social, political and cultural dimensions of womens’s experiences in contemporary Middle Eastern society. Combining Farsi calligraphy and Islamic architectural designs with mixed media, her Persian roots provide continual inspiration in her new hybrid reality, where East meets West. This cross-cultural exposure provides a universal subtext to her work.
Sarvin Haghighi
Artist, Activist
Haven Herrin is a queer, trans, white Southerner, from Texas. They joined Soulforce in 2005 inspired by the spiritual, personal and political spirit of their organizing to challenge Christian Supremacy. As former Equality Ride Co-Director, Haven developed deep understanding of the Religious Right, seeded in colonization, white supremacy, and patriarchy and the stake that LGBTQI people have in ending that order. Haven approaches organizing as an artist and designer and relies on dance to keep their spirit alive in these challenging times.
Haven Herrin
Jamil Khoury is Chief Programming Officer & Mission Trustee at Silk Road Rising. As a theatre producer, playwright, essayist, and filmmaker, Jamil’s work focuses on Middle Eastern themes and questions of Diaspora. He is particularly interested in the intersections of culture, national identity, and citizenship, and has emerged as a national leader in the Middle Eastern American theatre movement. Jamil is the 2017 recipient of The University of Chicago Diversity Leadership Alumni Award.
Jamil Khoury
Silk Road Rising
Rohina Malik is a critically acclaimed, award winning playwright and solo performance artist. Her one-woman play Unveiled received critical acclaim, and her plays The Mecca Tales and Yasmina’s Necklace were nominated for Joseph Jefferson Awards for Best New Play. Malik is Resident Playwright Emeritus at Chicago Dramatists, an Artistic Associate at the 16th Street Theater, an Artistic Associate at Voyage Theater Company in NYC, and an Artistic affiliate at the American Blues Theater. Malik received the 2018 Lee Reynolds Award, recognizing how her work illuminates the possibilities for social, cultural, and political change.
Rohina Malik
Playwright & Solo Performance Artist
Yaz Mendez Nuñez is a 25-year-old organizer based in Richmond, Virginia. As a Queer Brown Southerner from a military town, Yaz lives, loves, and hustles in the legacy of their Borinken and Quisqueyan ancestors. Their political and spiritual commitments are to enthusiasm, integrity, joy, and authenticity.
Yaz Mendez Nuñez
Corey Saylor is the Managing Director for Security and Rights. In this role, he works with a specialized team of ReThink professionals to protect human and civil rights in a post-9/11 world. He has spent over 20 years in non-profit advocacy working on political communications, media relations and combatting anti-Islam legislation nationwide. Corey has also authored anti-Islam reports such as Confronting Fear, exploring the funding and impact of U.S. anti-Muslim groups.  Corey has also conducted dozens of leadership, advocacy and media trainings across the United States, including audiences at NASA, Yale, Princeton, and the U.S. National War College.
Corey Saylor
ReThink Media
Kim Schultz is a writer, actor and activist specializing in comedic and authentic storytelling. In 2009, she traveled to the Middle East to meet Iraqi refugees and wrote a play inspired by the trip.  Falling in love with a refugee changed her life forever. Her play "No Place Called Home" was performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, for World Refugee Day and off Broadway in NYC, in 2010. She is also the author of the recently released memoir, “Three Days in Damascus” (Palewell Press, 2016), also available on audiobook. Additionally, Kim is an improvisation teacher and trainer helping individuals and organizations become more authentic, committed, joyful and successful in their work.
Kim Schultz
Writer, Actor & Activist
Alba Onofrio (Reverand Sex) is a Southern, Appalachian, First-Gen, Latinx, Queer, Evangelical, Femme Resister who lives and loves in la Lucha with QTPOC as a Spiritual Healer and Bruja Troublemaker. They work to combat spiritual terrorism and reclaim Guad. They hold a Masters of Divinity degree from Vanderbilt Divinity School, with a focus on the theologies of sex, embodiment of the Divine in the Queer Colonized body, and sexual ethics based in Queer desire. As the Spiritual Strategist for Soulforce and a co-founder of the Sexual Liberation Collective, Reverend Sex continues to work for Queer Liberation most fondly in the US South, in solidarity with the Global South.  
Rev. Alba Onofrio


RIOTcon offers several inspiring workshops lead by provocative activists, authors, artists, and industry leaders. Each session will help you learn, network and channel your passions. In addition to facilitated workshops, we will come together for plenary sessions to reflect, inspire, move hearts, and build relationships.

Workshop Sessions

Media Training 

ReThink Media will provide training that enables leaders to better engage in the public square around issues related to religious diversity and pluralism and with messages that counter religious discrimination, including anti-Muslim bias and Islamophobia.  Greater media competency is necessary to move divisive and hateful rhetoric towards conversations fostering justice and peace.  ReThink Media is a non-profit organization focused on building communications capacity to promote the protection of human and civil rights and strengthen democracy. Their Peace and Security Team includes specific efforts to combat Islamophobia.

The Power of Narrative

Minds are often changed through stories and personal narrative rather than facts, figures, and reason. Playwright Rohina Malik and author Kim Schultz, both storytellers and artists, employ the power of narrative to promote peace, elicit empathy, and demonstrate the commonalities between all people. Their workshop will help participants discover new methods for storytelling that reduce anti-Muslim bias and de-center Christianity.

Christian Privilege/Supremacy

In order to reduce bias, discrimination, and hate, it is critical to understand the ways Christianity has become a normative force in the United States and recognize that anti-Muslim bias is rooted in a Christian supremacist framework. Soulforce works to reduce Christian supremacy towards justice and equity for marginalized groups, including Muslims in the US. Their workshop will focus on organizing nonviolent movements to dismantle the link between harmful systems of power and Christianity. Soulforce holds space for people of all faith traditions and for those without as well.

Better: Waking Up to Who We Could Be

What if the world we have—with its racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, religious hatred, ecological disregard—is exactly the world people of faith storied into existence with the hostile faith stories we tell? What if we could change the world by telling better stories? In this workshop Emmy award winner Melvin Bray explores what it means for people of faith to join in seeking sustainable, cooperative, and courageous answers to the most intractable problems of our time. His work focuses on “creating intersectional space that not only white folks and people of color, but persons of various historically marginalized identities, are willing to enter into, try on new scripts and reach across their differences in experience.”

Art as Activism

Iran-born artist Sarvin Haghighi will lead this workshop, allowing participants to explore the ways art can speak louder than words. Haghighi will share the ways she uses art as a force for peace, love, and social justice. As an immigrant, Haghighi’s recent artistic expressions have highlighted the contradiction between the American dream and our current political and social climate. This workshop will help participants cultivate artistic expression as part of their commitment to dismantling anti-Muslim bias.

Plenary Sessions

Obstacle Course

Silk Road Rising debuts a staged reading of their new play, Obstacle Course, focused on controversy surrounding the building of a mosque. Founding Artistic Director Jamil Khoury will facilitate discussion after the performance. Silk Road Rising creates live theatre and online videos that advance a polycultural worldview. Stories are told through primarily Asian American and Middle Eastern American lenses, representing communities that intersect and overlap.

I Am Muslim: A Diversity American Community

Explore the immense diversity of experiences among Muslims in America. Led by a coalition of Muslim voices, this session widens our imaginations and breaks stereotypes that limit and deny the rich mulitiplicities of expression across the Muslim experience in America.

Liza Garza, LIVE!

Liza Garza, Emmy Award-nominated poet, vocalist, and songwriter joins us for performance infusing the cultural soul of Mexican folk tunes in modern ballads with the intricacy of Hip Hop rhyme. Her unique style bridges the ancestral with the modern.

Jummah (Friday) Prayer

Alia J. Bilal, Director of Community Relations at IMAN, will help demystify Muslim prayer. Walking participants through the ritual components and spiritual elements of Jummah prayer, all will have an opportunity to listen and/or practice this honored discipline.

Art as a Verb: Sarvin Haghighi

Chicago-based artist Sarvin Haghighi is donating images to brand this year’s RIOTcon and will create artwork in process with attendees at Beloved is a Verb to document the event.  Her modern approach is inspired by traditional Iranian art forms.

SPECIAL EVENT: Ifrah Mansour Performance

Thursday evening, we partner with our friends at the American Islamic College. We travel to the north side of the city where they bring to their stage Ifrah Mansour. A multimedia performance artist, her work is centered on the idea of displacement and Somali culture. Mansour, who lives in south Minneapolis, was named one of 10 Somali artists and entertainers to watch in 2015 by OkayAfrica, a global media hub that covers African culture. A talk back session with the audience and other artists will follow her performance.
Thursday, April 19
8:00 am
9:00 am
Registration & Continental Breakfast
Lobby - First Floor & Lounge – Third Floor
9:30 am
4:30 pm
Workshops & Plenaries
Detailed Schedule Coming Soon!
7:00 am
9:00 pm
Ifrah Mansour Performance
Details Coming Soon!
Friday, April 20
8:00 am
9:00 am
Registration & Continental Breakfast
Lobby – First Floor & Lounge – Third Floor
9:30 am
3:00 pm
Workshops & Plenaries
Detailed Schedule Coming Soon!


More than sponsors and supporters, these are our collaborators in the fight for social justice. They share our commitment to addressing the Raging Issues Of Today. We hope that you support them.

CTS is grateful for the partners who helped make RIOTcon 2018: Beloved is a Verb possible.

Founded by a handful of book lovers in 1961, Hyde Park’s Seminary Co-op Bookstore is now widely regarded as one of the best academic bookstores in the world, housing an extensive collection of scholarly titles with a focus on the humanities and social sciences. Located a block from away, 57th Street Books stocks a substantial selection of general interest titles, including kids’ books, popular fiction, cookbooks, science fiction, mysteries, and graphic novels. website
IMAN is a community organization that fosters health, wellness and healing in the inner-city by organizing for social change, cultivating the arts and operating a holistic health center. Currently, IMAN operates a community health center; provides transitional housing and job training for formerly incarcerated men; empowers local youth through leadership development and civic engagement; and inspire change through arts and culture programming. website
31 Lengths is a dynamic New York ad agency singularly focused on the success of their clients. They are a creatively-led marketing firm responsible for award-winning campaigns in every medium. Since 2012, 31 Lengths has partnered with CTS to develop a fresher brand, as well as successful recruitment and fund-raising efforts. They were behind the campaigns for the Online MDiv and White Privilege Glasses. And now 31 Lengths has created the graphic designs, advertising and digital sites for the both Selma and RIOTcon conferences.
31 Lengths also works with other faith-based organizations, like the United Church of Christ. website


CTS is proud to work with partners who are committed to advancing and supporting civil rights activism and activists! Call us and let’s discuss adding your organization to our partner list. Contact Manal Farhan, Conference Coordinator, at or 773.896.2487.

Engage & Connect

Please share this opportunity with your friends and colleagues and follow us on social media.
Our conference hashtag is #RIOTcon2018

Getting Here

We look forward to seeing you at RIOTcon! The following information will assist you in planning your visit to campus.


If you choose to drive to RIOTcon, we recommend parking at one of these locations:

UC lot on 60th/Stony Island: Community parking is provided by University of Chicago at 60th Street and Stony Island Avenue. It is free to visitors. More information about University of Chicago community parking can be found here.

STREET PARKING: Street parking is available throughout the Hyde Park/Woodlawn community. Parking along both 60th Street and Dorchester Avenue, the streets closest to CTS, do not require a permit, but spaces are limited.


There is a wealth of information about public transportation through the Chicago Transit Authority.

CTA Bus Routes:

  • The 2 and the 170 travel along 60th Street, including stops at 60th and Dorchester.
  • The 171 and the 59 stop at 60th and Dorchester.
  • The 6, the 15, the 28, and the x28 stop at 60th and Stony Island.
  • The 63 runs along 63rd Street from Blackstone to the Red Line and to Midway Airport.
To Get Downtown: Options to get downtown include the 2 (weekday rush hours), the 6, the x28 (weekday rush hours), and the Metra train.
To Get to Union Station: The x28 runs between 60th and Stony Island and Union Station during weekday rush hours.
Metra: Metra schedules are available at  There are two Metra stops for the Metra Electric (travels from the south suburbs to downtown) nearby: 59th and Harper Avenue (1 block north, 2 blocks east) & 63rd and Dorchester Avenue (3 blocks south)

Conference Location

Chicago Theological Seminary
1407 East 60th Street, Chicago, IL 60637
Chicago Theological Seminary is located at the southeast corner of 60th and Dorchester.


Fill out my online form.