Each year Neda Nobari Foundation is privileged to meet and work with brilliant and innovative individuals working at the intersection of education, social justice, and grassroots activism.  Each
in their own ways, these change-makers are pioneering new systems’ approaches that ignite a transformative potential critical in today’s 21st century world, yet rarely receive the
acknowledgement they deserve.

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The NNF Spotlight Series seeks to give a platform to these global leaders, their exemplary work projects, backgrounds, and their driving passions that set them apart as some of the most progressive trailblazers of our time.

Catherine Kudlick, Ph.D

San Francisco State University Professor of History and Director Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability


As director of  San Francisco State University’s Paul K. Longmore Institute on Disability since 2012, Catherine Kudlick seeks to convince everyone that society is better because disabled people are in it. She earned her doctor of philosophy in History from UC Berkeley in 1988, which launched her on the path of exploring places where there are unexpected intersections among disability, society, and medicine past and present. Through academic writing and public programs, Kudlick seeks to show disability as a creative force for change. Such an approach has far-reaching implications for disabled and nondisabled people alike.

Her scholarship includes Reflections: the Life and Writings of a Young Blind Woman in Postrevolutionary France (co-authored with Dr. Zina Weygand) and “Disability History: Why We Need Another Other” in the American Historical Review. She oversaw completion of Paul Longmore’s posthumously published book, Telethons: Spectacle, Disability, and the Business of Charity. She is co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Disability History with Michael Rembis and Kim Nielsen.

For the broader public, Kudlick spearheaded the exhibit “Patient No More: People with Disabilities Securing Civil Rights” and co-hosts (along with Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco) Superfest International Disability Film Festival, the world’s longest running disability film festival. And she’s currently working with San Francisco State students in Apparel, Design, and Marketing to re-imagine both disability and the runway show as a concept.


Donya Nasser

Iranian-American Feminist, Activist, and Scholar & Former U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations


Donya Nasser graduated Summa Cum Laude from St. John’s University where she studied Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies as an Honors student and McNair Scholar. She is passionate about advocating for gender equality and reproductive justice on both a domestic and international level; empowering women, youth, and minorities to become civically engaged and run for office, and contributing to Middle East policy while combating stigmas and stereotypes.

She has interned for the White House Office of Legislative Affairs, the Wilson Center’s Middle East Program, and the Brennan Center for Justice. Donya is the former 2015-2016 U.S. Youth Observer to the United Nations. Donya currently lives in Washington, D.C. and serves as a Truman-Albright Fellow in the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Malcome Gladwell

New York Times bestselling Author, Journalist and Speaker


Malcolm Gladwell is the author of five New York Times bestsellers — The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, What the Dog Saw, and David and Goliath. He has been named one of the 100 most influential people by TIME magazine and one of the Foreign Policy’s Top Global Thinkers. He has explored how ideas spread in the Tipping Point, decision making in Blink, the roots of success in Outliers, and the advantages of disadvantages in his latest book David and Goliath. In his latest project, Revisionist History, Gladwell examines the way the passage of time changes and enlightens our understanding of the world around us.

Mark Johnson, M.F.A

Director of the San Francisco State University Fine Arts Gallery


Mark Johnson is the director of the Fine Arts Gallery on the SF State Campus and during his career has curated art shows and written books detailing past and present Asian American art. He was educated at Yale University, where he was a personal assistant to Josef Albers, and received his MFA from UC Berkeley. He previously was professor at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA, and Associate Dean of Academic Affairs at the San Francisco Art Institute. His curatorial work is focused on documenting and bringing attention to important aspects of California and American art that have been undervalued or overlooked.

His publications include: Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (2008: Stanford University Press), and AT WORK: The Art of California Labor (2003: California Historical Society Press). Mark’s forthcoming curation entitled Mashrabiya: The Art of Looking Back, uses the architectural form mashrabiya as a visual trope, revealing artwork that complicates Western paradigms of viewing and representing Middle Eastern and Islamic culture.

Taraneh Hemami

Iranian-American Visual Artist & Arts Educator


The work of Iranian-born artist Taraneh Hemami explores issues of cultural identity, preservation, migration and assimilation based on collective histories gathered from within the Bay Area Iranian community. Taraneh’s projects have connected organizations, residency programs, artists and scholars with the Iranian-American diaspora. Taraneh’s process of creative dialogue has spawned an archive of images and stories, resulting in numerous multimedia installations and exhibitions. Her work has been widely exhibited including recent projects premiered at Luggage ore Gallery, Southern Exposure, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, Victoria and Albert Museum in London, Triumph gallery in Moscow, Boghossian Foundation in Brussels, and AG Galerie in Tehran, Iran.


Taraneh has received numerous awards, grants and residencies including a Zellerbach Foundation Community Arts Award, a Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) Artist Innovation Award, a Community Stories award from California Humanities, a Creative Work Fund from HAAS Fund, a Eureka award from the Fleishhacker Foundation, and a Creative Capital. Taraneh is currently an adjunct professor at California College of the Arts where she directed the collective project “Cross Connections” as part of her residency at the Center for Arts and Public Life, specifically working with artists from the Iranian Diaspora, and is currently involved with MENA (Middle East and North Africa) Group expanding conversations and opportunities for creative exchange across regions and histories.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Earth Guardians Youth Director, Indigenous Activist & Hip-Hop Artist


Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, (his first name pronounced ‘Shoe-Tez-Caht’) is a 16 year old indigenous climate activist, hiphop artist, and a powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement. At the early age of six, Xiuhtezcatl began speaking around the world from the Rio+20 United Nations Summit in Rio de Janeiro, to addressing the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York. He is the Youth Director of Earth Guardians, an organization of young activists, artists and musicians from across the globe stepping up as leaders and working together to create positive change in their communities to address climate change and other important issues that will define our future.

He is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Obama administration for their failure to protect the atmosphere and their future. He has worked locally to get pesticides out of parks, coal ash contained and moratoriums on fracking in his state. He has traveled across the nation and to many parts of the world educating, his generation about the state of the planet they are inheriting and inspiring them into action to protect the Earth. His movement has grown to over 2,000 youth lead Earth Guardian crews globally working on the frontline to combat climate change. His work has been featured on PBS, Showtime, National Geographic, Rolling Stones, Upworthy, The Guardian, Vogue, CNN, MSNBC, HBO and many more. In 2013, Xiuhtezcatl received the 2013 United States Community Service Award from President Obama, and was the youngest of 24 national change-makers chosen to serve on the President’s youth council. He is the 2015 recipient of the Peace First Prize and the recipient of the 2015 Nickelodeon Halo Award. Bill Mckibben of calls Xiuhtezcatl “an impressive spokesman for a viewpoint the world needs to hear.”