The structure for Unity Theater that includes its art and music was created by Elana Felice Stanger, L.C.S.W., with God’s help. Born in the multicultural Bronx and now residing in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, Stanger’s mission is to aid in the healing of social oppression and to build intercultural unity through the expressive arts, and more specifically, Unity Theater.
As an Ithaca College student, where she studied Interpersonal as well as Public Speech Communication, she founded Students for an Interracial Dialogue and discovered her calling as an intercultural dialogue facilitator.
Stanger tells a story: “When it came time for college, I was able to attend a private school for the first time after having attended public schools all of my life. This was because the scholarships and funding being offered by Ithaca College were the equivalent of what any state university would offer me. Ithaca College, in Upstate New York, was a wonderful place for learning, with an excellent student to teacher ratio that enabled a lot of individual attention and great opportunities for rich classroom discussion. What was missing was the diversity. The student population was only 2% people of color—and the school did not even know which colors they were—just lumped them all under the term “nonwhite”. My move to upstate New York and away from the Bronx left me with culture shock. I had never seen so many white people in all my life! Many people think that is a funny thing for a white woman to say, but it was true for me as it was true for other whites that had grown up in racially diverse environments. There was certainly racial tension on the campus, segregation, and confusion—as there is on every college campus in America. I vowed that I would have to do something about this situation before I graduated. This vow inspired the birth of Students for an Interracial Dialogue (SID).”
“I founded SID as a campus organization to build bridges across racial lines and develop intercultural understanding and relationships. I gained assistance from a number of faculty and from the Office of Minority Student Affairs—I still don’t know why they call people of color “minorities” when the majority of the world’s population is made up of people of color—I think it’s a nasty trick designed to make us think people of color have less power than they do. Nonetheless, I facilitated a series of dialogues, the first of which was attended by 200 people! I had found my true calling as a facilitator of interracial and intercultural communication. I felt totally energized and amazingly clear of mind after fielding questions and channeling the dialogue between 200 people for its two-hour duration.”
“Shortly after this, I graduated from Ithaca College with a B.A. Degree in Speech Communication and a Concentration in Public Speaking. It was then time to move to New Orleans, Louisiana.”
After college, Stanger opened Diversity Intercultural Art Gallery in New Orleans, to build intercultural bridges. There, her community-building work was recognized by the Times-Picayune Newspaper. She helped organize the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Event in New Orleans culminating in a performance of a play she wrote and directed that was centered on themes of social justice, racism, classism, and conflict resolution. She also chaired the MLK Event in Northwest Philadelphia on behalf of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
She studied Theatre of the Oppressed with Augusto Boal, its creator. She also trained with and led prejudice-reduction workshops with the National Coalition Building Institute based in Washington D.C.. Through two additional firms, Stanger conducted organizational development processes with government departments, corporations, health, educational and religious institutions. Having had these experiences, she became interested in creating an organizational development process for the world, one which takes into account the needs and concerns of the people and molds solutions and collective action based on their elicited input. She holds two Master’s Degrees, one in Conflict Analysis and Resolution and one in Social Work.
In 2014, Stanger became a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. From 2011 to 2016, she conducted therapy with clients diagnosed with a range of mental illnesses, aiding in their recovery. She has long been interested in using therapy to aid in our empowerment and to heal the places within us that make us feel less than powerful and destructive to self or others. She enjoys incorporating the expressive arts in her therapeutic work and using art as a starting point for dialogue. Stanger has led healing groups using the expressive arts.
Her art, blog, videos, and products to promote intercultural understanding may be seen on her website at www.DiversityArts.org. Her art was presented to Dr. Cornel West and she was photographed with the late Dr. Manning Marable beside one of her pieces (shown above). Her books, The Apology and My Heart Goes Out to You: The Art of Building Intercultural Unity feature Stanger’s inspirational writing and art to touch the heart.
Inspired by her faith, her relationship with God, and ideals such as peace, lovingkindness, truth, dignity, freedom, justice, and repair of the world, Stanger aims to build a strong spiritual foundation from which we may come to know true peace and love, and experience the Beloved Community of which Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke.
Elana Felice Stanger, L.C.S.W.