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 the 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
Jacqueline Bussie is an author, professor, interfaith activist, theologian, public speaker, and student of life. Her book, Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the Rules (2016) won the 2017 Gold Medal Illumination Award for Christian Living. Her forthcoming memoir, Love Without Limits: Jesus’ Radical Vision for a Love with No Exceptions, shares inspirational and boundary-busting stories of love across difference (August 2018, Fortress Press). Jacqueline teaches world religions and interfaith studies classes at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, where she also serves as the Director of the Forum on Faith and Life, Concordia’s interfaith resource center.
Jacqueline Bussie
Concordia College
Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans is ALIM’s first Scholar-in-Residence.  He converted to Islam while in high school. Upon conversion, Ustadh Ubaydullah began studying some of the foundational books of Islam under the private tutelage of local scholars while simultaneously pursuing a degree in journalism from Columbia. Since then he has studied at Chicagoland’s Institute of Islamic Education (IIE), in Tarim, Yemen, and Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, where he is the first African-American to graduate from its Shari’a program. Ustadh Ubaydullah also instructs with the Ta’leef Collective and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) at times.
Ubaydullah Evans
American Learning Institute for Muslims
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
Eli Lakes a musician, singer-songwriter, producer, and art activist. Raised and rooted in culture and purpose he has pursued his passion from an early age. Joining his mother, Liza Garza on stage as her official guitarist at the age of 15 solidified his love for the power of music. He has since released two solo albums that lead to an 11 city living room tour spanning the southern region. He has shared at numerous festivals and universities and continues to honor his path by creating music that inspires and uplifts.
Eli Lakes
Musician, Singer-Songwriter, Producer & Art Activist
Hind Makki is an interfaith educator who develops and delivers trainings on civic integration through interfaith action and anti-racism education throughout the United States and Western Europe. She is currently a Religious Advisor to the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study (YES) Program. Hind, a Fellow of the American Muslim Civic Leadership Institute, is the founder and curator of “Side Entrance,” a website that catalyzed a national conversation on women and the mosque. She serves on the Islamic Society of North America's Mosque Inclusion Taskforce and as an adviser to the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding project, "Reimagining Muslim Spaces."
Hind Makki
Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange & Study
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
Ifrah Mansour is a Somali, refugee, Muslim multimedia artist residing in Minnesota. She explores trauma through the eyes of children to uncover the resiliency of black, Muslim refugees. She interweaves poetry, puppetry, film, and installations to illuminate the invisible stories of immigrants. Her critically-acclimated play “How to Have Fun in a Civil War” premiered at Guthrie Theatre. Her first national museum piece, “Can I touch it” as part of “I am Somali” exhibit, is currently on view at Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
Ifrah Mansour
Multimedia Artist
Rabbi Dr. Rachel S. Mikva served as a congregational rabbi for thirteen years before returning to academia. Her research and teaching focus on interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in various times and places, exploring how the ideas both shape and reflect the societies in which they unfold. She is especially interested in the intersections of exegesis, culture and ethics.
Rachel S. Mikva
Chicago Theological Seminary
Jenan Mohajir is an educator, a storyteller, a mother and a believer in building relationships across the lines that separate us. She is the Director of Student Leadership at Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), where she oversees the creation and implementation of programs that invest in leadership development of student leaders. Jenan is a Founding Board Member at HEART Women & Girls, a nationally recognized nonprofit that promotes sexual health and awareness of gender based violence. Jenan is deeply inspired by the stories from her family and faith to create change at the intersections of gender, sexuality, race and religion.  
Jenan Mohajir
Interfaith Youth Core
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
Rev. Dr. Stephen G. Ray Jr. is the newly appointed President of Chicago Theological Seminary. In addition, he is the President of the Society for the Study of Black Religion and the Co-Chair of the Workgroup on Constructive Theology. Having written and lectured broadly in the areas of Systematic Theology, African American religion, human rights and the intersection of religion and politics, President Ray’s current work focuses on reinvigorating the public square as a place for all, and reclaiming a vital expression of progressive religion in that project.
Stephen G. Ray, Jr.
Chicago Theological Seminary
Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics and Society at Chicago Theological Seminary. Professor Ringer's research interests include theological and social ethics, African American religion, public theology, religion and social sciences, religion and politics, critical theory and African American religion, and cultural studies. He is particularly interested in African American religion as a site for understanding the relationship of self, society and the sacred as it concerns human flourishing. Ringer's research currently focuses on the religious and cultural meanings that sustain and rationalize mass incarceration and other forms of social death in American public life. @ringercd
Christophe Ringer
Chicago Theological Seminary
Abdul-Malik was born Michael Patrick Ryan. His study of African-American history and encounters with the life and legacy of Malcolm X (Malik Shabazz) led to his accepting Islam in 1994. He was one of the founding members and past President of the Board of Directors of the Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN). A graduate of the Georgetown University Law Center, he represented children in the foster care system in Chicago, for 14 years. Previously, he served as Imam of the Inner City Islamic Center and has been the Muslim Chaplain at DePaul University since 2009.
Abdul-Malik Ryan
DePaul University
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


Beloved community is more like a twelve-step program than a semester-length seminar. You can know all the right stuff and never get around to practicing it. This metaphor, of course, characterizes systems of inequity and the supremacist logics that undergird them as both individual and societal addictions that must be overcome. Overcoming requires four recursive major moves – Critical Analysis, Self-Awareness, Cultural Competence and Better Practices. Like a spiraling flight of stairs, "every round goes higher, higher." Using the classic AA framework as a starting point, Melvin examines the specific steps important to each major move. Each workshop round will focus on a different major move.

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.

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 Diverse American Community

Led by an ensemble of influential 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.

The Prayer and The Pray-er: A Workshop

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
9:00 am
10:00 am
Welcome & Opening Plenary
RIOTcon Cohort Leaders – Welcome, Overview, and Meet Your Presenters!
Chapel – Fourth Floor
10:15 am
11:30 am
Workshop Session I
11:30 am
12:30 pm
Lunch Plenary
Dining Hall – Fourth Floor
Conversation with Dr. Jacqueline Bussie, “Love Without Limits”
12:30 pm
1:45 pm
Plenary Session
I Am Muslim: A Diverse American Community
Chapel – Fourth Floor
2:00 pm
3:15 pm
Workshop Session II
3:30 pm
5:00 pm
Plenary Session
“Obstacle Course” staged reading presented by Silk Road Rising
Chapel – Fourth Floor
4:30 pm
6:50 pm
Dinner Break
7:00 pm
9:00 pm
Evening with Ifrah Mansour and Artist Talk-Back Session
Friday, April 20
8:00 am
9:00 am
Registration & Continental Breakfast
Lobby - First Floor
9:00 am
10:00 am
Opening Plenary: Liza Garza, Live!
Liza Garza
Chapel – Fourth Floor
10:15 am
11:30 am
Workshop Session III
11:30 am
12:30 am
Lunch Break
11:45 pm
12:45 pm
The Prayer And The Pray-er: A Workshop
Alia J. Bilal
Chapel – Fourth Floor
Jummua Prayer w/ Imam Abdul-Malik Ryan
Abdul-Malik Ryan
Chapel – Fourth Floor
12:30 pm
2:15 pm
Workshop Session IV
2:15 pm
3:00 pm
Commitments & Closing
All Participants
Chapel – Fourth Floor

Lead Sponsor

Zakat Logo

Zakat Foundation of America is unique among humanitarian organizations in advancing zakat as a vehicle for social change. The third pillar of Islam, zakat is an obligatory claim on the wealth of the affluent to empower the indigent. ZF channels this egalitarian spirit of zakat into a global vision of social development that transcends national boundaries, and stands as the foremost authority on interpreting zakat as a factor for positive change.

ZF strives to be an exceptional relief and development organization utilizing sustainable methods, while modeling the spirit of cooperative internationalism that will be essential in an increasingly unstable world. As a direct result of its reputation for path-breaking humanitarianism with a global vision, ZF is rapidly growing in reach and capacity. Every year brings new projects that expand the scope of our work and deepen its impact on the communities we serve at home and abroad.



More than community partners, 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.

Sirat Chicago is a neighborhood space that supports independent initiatives around arts, education, service and community building. We encourage community service and religious engagement, all in the spirit of confidently engaging our Muslim tradition. website
American Islamic College is an institution of higher learning grounded in Islamic values, embracing students of all backgrounds. Our Chicago location uniquely positions AIC to represent and research the diversity of Islam in America. AIC promotes appreciation for the scope and richness of Islamic history and civilization both in the classroom and by means of public events highlighting Islam’s intellectual, artistic and cultural expressions. Through rigorous scholarship, civic engagement and interfaith/ intercultural activities, AIC prepares our students to become global citizens and visionary leaders. website
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
The Niagara Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded in 2004 dedicated to the mission of fostering civic conversations and sustained relationships between people of different cultures and faiths, and part of the Alliance for Shared Values. Niagara has branches across the Midwest including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio, Minnesota, Missouri, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and is headquartered in Chicago. 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.


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