The PAR Institute (Participatory Action Research) is a Highlander project supported directly by the Surdna Foundation’s Thriving Cultures initiative. By utilizing popular education, cultural organizing, and other social change tools, the PAR Institute supports BIPOC artists and other culture workers in local communities. Regranting partners enable Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income artists to implement projects and develop narratives that imagine and test more-equitable systems across a variety of sectors, including: agriculture and food, economic development, education, health, housing, immigration, public safety, transportation, and workforce development.

Participatory Action Research (PAR) challenges the belief that only academics or trained professionals can produce accurate information, and instead recognizes information as POWER and puts that power in the hands of people seeking to overcome problems in their daily lives. PAR is a collective process of investigation, empowerment, and action. The people most affected by the problems, sometimes with the help of “experts”, investigate and analyze the issues, and ultimately act together to bring about meaningful, long-term solutions.


Highlander is partnering with Alternate Roots, National Performance Network, and the Transforming Power Fund to implement the project and support the Spring 2023 Mid-South Institute Cohort members. 


Learn more about the project, our partners, the cohort members,  and PAR here where you can also access videos from our presenters and participants and access resources about the PAR methodology, cultural organizing, and more!

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Meet Our Participatory Action Research Teams!

Please join us in welcoming our Participatory Action Research (PAR) research teams! These teams are working together on a participatory action research project that combines art and cultural organizing in local communities. These teams include one Highlander-trained PAR researcher and one community based organizer. Both the researchers and the community organizers have been through multiple levels of PAR training with the HREC and have been matched according to overlapping goals. HREC will provide community support, financial support, administrative over site, and documentation.

Rashida James-Saadiya

Rashida James-Saadiya is a community organizer, writer and independent scholar, utilizing storytelling as a tool to explore the connections between collaborative care and transformative justice. Her latest project, "Betraying the Spectacle," explores the constructs of race and the role of cultural memory and placemaking amongst Black Muslim women in the American South. Her creative work has appeared in "Hand to Hand: Poets Respond to Race," Voyages Africana Journal, "Kaleidoscope: Contemporary Muslim Voices," and Decomp, a multimedia journal in partnership with the Social Justice Institute. Lastly, she is co-curator of Flowers, a podcast and literary collaboration in celebration of Black culture and future-making. Rashida is partnering with BJ Woods, the Executive Director of The Village Place in Little Rock, AR, a community organization creating safe spaces for BIPOC youth.

BJ Woods

BJ Woods, the Executive Director of The Village Place in Little Rock, AR, a community organization creating safe spaces for BIPOC youth. BJ earned her Juris Doctorate degree from Saint Louis University School of Law and her Master of Public Service degree from the University of Arkansas, Clinton School of Public Service. Billie has nearly a decade of experience in the nonprofit sector and she is passionate about providing programs, services, and opportunities to populations that have been pushed to the margins.

King Shakur

King Shakur is a fun-loving poet, DJ, activist, mentor, lover, fighter, and everything in between. Born in Dallas, TX, and raised in the South Dallas neighborhood, he is a husband of 16 years to Regina and an Uncle/Daddy to Deshynena, Jyvontay Kingsun, and Khari. He founded Volunteering While Black in 2017. VWB is an organization tasked with promoting volunteerism in the African American community while supporting several service organizations. He has provided over $ 15,000 in in-kind DJing and MC services since 2019. He is an integral member of 2 Inspire Peace and Art Inspired Healing focused on Hip Hop and Healing, and social-emotional health. He is the recipient of Parkland's Community First Award 2019, A Dallas Mayor's Star Council Alum, and a board member of several nonprofits. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Music Business from Allen University an MS in Public Leadership from the University of North Texas Dallas and a Certificate in Social Emptional Arts (SEA) from UCLArts Healing. King is working with both Osyrus Bolly and Dawn Jeffries of Little Rock Freedom Fund, a black-led movement organization founded by by veteran black activists amid the 2020 Summer of Resistance. IG:POETDJKINGSHAKUR

Dawn Jeffries

Dawn Jeffries is the founder of Little Rock Freedom Fund, an organizer, mother and movement builder who heads up the organization. LRFF’s mission is to work alongside marginalized communities in Arkansas to devise and implement strategies to achieve racial and social justice.

Osyrus Bolly

Osyrus Bolly is an artist/activist who combines his passion for the arts and social justice, and serves as lead organizer at Little Rock Freedom Fund. As a storyteller he helps to preserve historical narratives and oral traditions of our people, occasionally done to music.