Michelle "Mush" Lee


Michelle Mush Lee is a published poet, narrative strategist, and pioneer of spoken word pedagogy. A Harvard University Project Zero Fellow, Mush is frequently a featured speaker on the intersection of emergent cultures, racial justice, and solidarity movements, and women of color in leadership. Mush serves as the Executive Director of Youth Speaks, a national youth development organization recognized as an exemplary arts education group representing Arts in America for the 21st Century. 

The former Vice-Chair of the City of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Commission and a member of the City’s Funding Advisory Committee, Mush served the City of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Division as a Cultural Strategist-in-Government (CSIG), where she worked with City departments to infuse policymaking and practices with radically creative and culturally-competent thinking and problem-solving to promote civic belonging. In 2020, she organized artists as part of the city’s Artists-in-Action Coalition to move $2.5M in arts grantmaking resources back into the hands of Oakland’s Black, Brown, Indigenous and AAPI artists, collectives, and youth development organizations reimagining racially just systems. 

In 2022, Mush led Youth Speaks in the launch of its Inclusive Narrative Change Fund & Initiative, a $5M, 3-year field intervention to ensure that philanthropy, researchers and on-the-ground artists and practitioners of the Narrative Field position youth voice in its long-term social change strategy. Most recently, Mush was recognized in 2023 by the MacArthur Foundation as a bold new leader in a sector where less than 3% of nonprofit executives identify as AAPI. As a MacArthur Foundation Art of Leadership Fellow, Mush is working with 24 leaders from across the nation working in documentary film, participatory civic media, and investigative reporting with the purpose of bridging movements for equity across organizations in the field.

At her core, she is a Korean American writer and child of voluntary immigrants, who has thrived by telling, and retelling, her story.

Michelle Mush Lee


Cultural Equity & Operationalizing Belonging: Recent Efforts from Oakland
In 2018, Oakland's Cultural Affairs Division released a cultural development plan guided by the framework that, "Equity is the driving force. Culture is the Frame. Belonging is the goal." In this panel, we'll hear from artists and City staff about how arts and culture have been core to operationalizing belonging in Oakland through building resident capacity for self-governance, creating networks of care and capacity, and shaping City practice and policy to address systemic Othering. The panel will highlight some of the key initiatives that have supported this work and will identify some of the...