About ConTextos Chicago

Where We Work

We aim to nourish the minds, expand the voices and share the personal truths of individuals who have long been underserved and underestimated. We work with the institutions and individuals that also reach these populations that we prioritize.

Sites of Incarceration and Detention

We work with juveniles and adults who are awaiting trial and accused of, or have been sentenced for violent offenses.

Community-Based Organizations and Workforce Development

Reaching young people and young-at-heart from Englewood, Gage Park, Roseland/Pullman, Brighton Park, North Lawndale, West Humboldt Park, Garfield Park, Auburn-Gresham, and Austin currently on probation, house arrest, just leaving jail or prison, or at elevated risk of violence involvement.

Schools

In schools, we provide direct implementation and focus on teacher training to ensure sustainability of best-practices that lift up all voices.

Number of Published Authors

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County
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Schools
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Community

“I feel as if ConTextos has provided an extremely effective way for us men to open up about certain things we wouldn’t normally share amongst anyone”

Tim Cox, Author

Program Sites

Team Members

Debra Gittler

Founder and CEO

debra@contextos.org

Debra Gittler

In 2011, Debra L. Gittler launched ConTextos with limited funding and an ambitious goal to transform the learning experiences for young people in El Salvador’s most ignored and under-resourced communities. Since then, she has raised over $5 million and expanded ConTextos reach into Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala and in 2016, opened an office and began building a team in Chicago, IL. Under her leadership, ConTextos has carved a unique niche at the intersection of education and justice reform to lift up the voices and support the social-emotional learning of young people living in some of the most violent and trauma-prone contexts of the Americas.

An avid reader and writer throughout childhood, while in college, Debra worked as a Writer-in-Residence in Detroit Public Schools. She started her career as a bilingual teacher at PS 63, a NYC public school in the Bronx, and then moved to Honduras where she taught literature and language arts at a small school with a strong social change mission. From Honduras, she was recruited to be the Coordinator and Lead Author of El Salvador’s national teacher training strategy in literacy instruction, part of a regional Latin American reform strategy to improve the quality of education, funded by USAID in conjunction with the Ministry of Education.

Debra received her master’s from Harvard Graduate School of Education (2010) with a focus on international policy and social entrepreneurship. She holds an MS in Bilingual Education (2004) from City College of New York and a BS in Int’l Community Development from the University of Michigan (2002). Debra has been recognized as an Echoing Green Global Fellow (2013), a Truman National Security Fellow (2015), a Schusterman REALITY Fellow (2016) and an Aspen Institute Global Leadership Fellow (2017). She has been featured on WBEZ, WTTW, the Sun-Times, El Diario de Hoy, La Prensa Grafica, Revista Mujeres, amongst other publications, for her work with ConTextos.

Debra enjoys going to the beach in Michigan and has a daughter named Ezra.

Lisa Kenner

Co-Director of Programs and Partnerships

lisa@contextos.org

Lisa Kenner

Lisa Kenner is a seasoned leader who has dedicated her career to providing transformational educational opportunities to children, families, and communities. Operating with a collaborative mindset and with vision and passion, Lisa founded and led a successful single-site charter school for 12 years in North Lawndale. She thrives in community-based work and has earned the trust and respect of students, families, staff, funders, board members, and community stakeholders.

Johnny Page

Incoming Executive Director

johnnypage@contextos.org

Johnny Page

Johnny Page is the Co-Director of Programs & Partnerships at ConTextos. He is a formerly incarcerated professional, speaker, author, anti-violence educator, and advocate. He’s committed to fighting for the right of access to higher education for the incarcerated and creating pathways for the formerly incarcerated on traditional campuses. Johnny is the Co-Founder of C.A.V.E. (Community Anti-Violence Education) an intergenerational community-based support system for those who are affected by trauma.

dr. sharon moore

Authors Circle Facilitator

drmoore@contextos.org

dr. sharon moore

dr. moore is an Authors’ Circle facilitator and helps to coordinate programs and curriculum development. dr. moore believes that everyone is a creator, for we create ourselves every day. She is committed to walking alongside others on their journeys of self-exploration. dr. moore brings empathy, openness, honesty, and love into this shared space of communion, self-reflection, exploration, and healing.

Dimitri Hepburn

Authors Circle Facilitator

dimitri@contextos.org

Dimitri Hepburn

Dimitri is an Authors Circle facilitator and digital media producer at ConTextos. He believes that the understanding gained by a thorough examination of the world around us, as experienced from multiple perspectives, is fundamental to the shared success of all people. Born in the Bahamas and raised in the Bronx, Dimitri has grown deep roots in Chicago where he helps create opportunities to learn, explore, and tell stories about the world and ourselves, stories that provide fertile ground for empathy and understanding.

Luz Magdaleno Flores

Art & Communications Coordinator

luz@contextos.org

Luz Magdaleno Flores

Luz Magdaleno Flores is a Chicana art curator, poet, textile artist, and fotografa based in Pilsen by way de Oxnard, California. Also known as DJ Light of Your Vida. She aims to evoke feelings of nostalgia and melancholy in everything she creates. The cholos or gangeros who occupy the hoods she lived in are the biggest influences in her practice. She looks up to gente who are so often deemed violent or problematic because they are survivors in communities that lack resources and compassion. She does this work to inspire youngsters of color to create and believe in the worth of our stories

Vanessa Kucera

Director of Strategy and Operation

vanessa@contextos.org

Vanessa Kucera
Vanessa joined ConTextos in 2019 as our bookkeeper and office manager. She brings nearly twenty years of experience in finance and operations in the real estate and construction industries in the southeastern US, where her roles included financial analysis and strategy, insurance and risk management, environmental and saftey compliance, and human resources management. She has also worked extensively with nonprofits in volunteer and paid leadership roles, as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors at Atlanta-based Living Room and as a grant writer and reviewer. Most recently, she was the Impact Manager at Chicago’s Silk Road Rising, a community-centered artmaking and arts service organization rooted in Asian, Middle Eastern, and Muslim experiences. She is currently completing a Master of Public Health degree at UIC, with a focus on community health.

Kalief Dinkins

Artist in Residence

kalief@contextos.org

Kalief Dinkins

The south side of Chicago raised me and made me an Artist. I am entrenched in culture, fashion, sports, and fine art. Simply put, I bring ideas to life; juxtaposing art and culture as well as the strategy of using creativity, experimentation, and great design to inspire and benefit the people around me. I’ve been creative all my life but I got into painting in my Junior year of high school. The first thing I ever painted was a pair of timberlands and Air Force 1s. I always challenge my creativity and that has taken me from painting shoes to painting Murals around Chicago. Art is my voice and I use it as an outlet to speak for myself and others. My Art depicts self-growth parallel to nature and chasing your dreams that satisfy your inner child.

Jonathan Ivory

Author's Circle Facilitator

jonivory@contextos.org

Jonathan Ivory

Jonathan Ivory is a facilitator at Contextos Chicago. While being detained in Cook county Department of Corrections he participated in and published writings in Authors Circle. After going to trial and being found innocent he was released. While his life was irreparably altered by the injustice in the legal system his sense of hope and optimism remain inspiring and inspired. He now mentors youth in CPS Schools and young adults in community centers.

Naimah Thomas

Publication Design and Facilitator

naimah@contextos.org

Naimah Thomas

Naimah is a Black femme born and raised in Chicago who currently works as a licensed professional counselor, art therapist, and artist. Her clinical work and art practice often explore the intersections of art and mental health, primarily in Black and Brown communities.

She utilizes art to shift narratives around healing, mental health, and creating spaces where exploration and re-imagination are valued. Most of her visual work is informed by her lived experiences as a Black woman, artist, and therapist. Naimah's art practice focuses on utilizing mixed media, illustration, and technology to spark creativity and space for exploration.

Naimah has had the opportunity to work with a range of people across the lifespan in community, correctional, and nonprofit settings. She received her master’s in art therapy from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and her bachelor’s degree in graphic design from Columbia College Chicago.

Trevor Lester aka "YT"

Author's Circle Facilitator

trevor@contextos.org

Trevor Lester aka "YT"

Trevor Lester aka YT from the Southside of Chicago, At the age of 20 Was incarcerated for murder and spent 8 years in Cook County Jail awaiting Trial before The charges were dropped. Now a Contextos Alumni Advocate, Published Author, and Author Circle Facilitator, YT is Focused on Using his Unique Journey of Empowerment to Inspire The Youth as well as his peers while continuing to be a voice for the voiceless.

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