5 Questions with Activist and Actor Sofiya Cheyenne

Sofiya Cheyenne was introduced to me through my then collaborator, Deb Hertzberg.  An instructor in the Brooklyn College Theater Department and a wonderful puppet artist and director in her own right, Deb met Sofiya in school and brought her on to a project that we were developing at the time.  I have been a Sofiya Cheyenne fan ever since.  She and her friends have been such kind and generous teachers to us. And Sofiya, frankly, she’s just a kind, talented badass woman who I love to be around.  Here’s 5 Questions with Sofiya Cheyenne.

JMK: Sofiya, we had such a wonderful time with you collaborating with the creative teams of Zwerge.  (Wouldn’t you love to be able to bring that show back?)  Your perspective on race and disability was obviously essential to our process.  How do you bring these powers to other projects?

SC: I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to bring “Zwerge” back! And honestly I should thank you for that experience… because it is truly the beginning of my advocacy and artistry journey. See, at the time I didn’t realize it… but much later when reflecting back on the experience we had working on “Zwerge” and creating the historical icon of Perla Ovitz. I was truly gifted with the opportunity to tell this woman’s story from a very authentic place. I felt empowered like never before. Through this true story of resilient people just like myself, I found a new found love of myself, performing and my dwarfism. I would say that Perla is a big reason why I do what I do today.

As far as other projects, I feel it is so important to always speak on the importance of self worth. Perla and the Ovitz family were a family that didn’t let the close minded world dictate how they saw themselves. The Ovitz family (a family of dwarf entertainers) always carried themselves with grace and dignity. Something that was very hard to do during WWII. And I carry that with me in all the work that I do. 

JMK: Wow. You’re going to make me cry.  To be honest, your comments make me want to call my collaborators and get back to the work of shining light through theater. It was a true honor for all of us to work with you on that material. 

You have a wonderfully expressive singing voice.  What music inspires you the most and why? 

SC: Thank you so much!! I truly love to sing, although sometimes I wish I felt more confident in my own voice. I think my favorite music to sing is soulful or jazzlike. I have a true alto voice, that is my sweet spot. Give me an Alicia Keys or Oleta Adams song … and I’ll be going at it! 

JMK: These days, even though life has supposedly “slowed”, everyone seems so drained.  What do you do to recharge?

SC: I breathe. So often we forget to breathe. Especially someone like me who’s a GO GO GO kinda person. (I will be embarrassed to say that some days my apple watch reminds me) but hey!! It’s important. When I breathe and take some time to meditate and be mindful of my body I feel very re-energized after. 

JMK: You’re a new mom!  CONGRATS!  How has this change in your life impacted your approach to your work and activism?

SC: Well, quite simply. Everything is about Logan now. It still feels really hard to understand what this balance of mommy and work will look like. It changes everyday. But what I do know is … my mission, just like before, has been to bring awareness to the world about dwarfism through my art. And now more than ever do I feel that is so important. I have brought another person of short stature into this world. So for Logan…. I will do anything and work really hard to make the world hear me now! To make the world a better place for someone like Logan. 

JMK: Well, you know that you’ve got allies in our team. When you look to the future, what will you do to be part of making the changes that you want to see in the world come to fruition?

SC: Perfect segue from my last response! haha. I’d say that as an artist I am really excited and motivated to create, support and be a part of projects that are disabled led and intended for disabled audiences. I want to tell stories that really impact the footprint or wheelprint that is ours. And I feel like the only way to do that is to be really intentional about our work. Little people for centuries have been begging the industry to see us as whole human beings. I think it’s about time we own our space, we own our narratives, we own our bodies and invite these audiences in and show them how beautiful we are. 

Sofiya Cheyenne is a Performing Artist, Teaching Artist, and Disability Advocate/Consultant. She is the Inclusion Director of Little People of America, Co-Chair of The Dwarf Artist Coalition and part of the Access Advisory Council for ART NY and Disability Working Group with the National Network of Consultants to Grantmakers. In all of her work she continually advocates for people of short stature and disabilities on and off the stage. She has appeared on TV shows such as TrueTV’s “At Home With Amy Sedaris”, Netflix’s “StartUP” and Amazon’s “Loudermilk.” Her favorite theatre credits include The Briefly Dead at 59E59, Other World at Bucks County Playhouse, and Guys and Dolls at Theater Under The Stars. Sofiya is a passionate educator and public speaker, she has been teaching theatre arts throughout New York City for over 10 years. Through sharing her artistry, her story and educating others, she encourages the power of community, storytelling and social change.

More at www.sofiyacheyenne.com/

On a promotional note, Sofiya Cheyenne will take part in Little Shadow Productions’ Lil’ Talks’ “Share The Mic” Series on September 13th.  Time TBD.  Get on the registrant list here. 

5 Questions with Activist, Artist and NYC Poll Worker, Lindsey Briggs


Lindsey “Z” Briggs is most known, internationally and domestically, for her work in the world of puppetry.  But for me, the most interesting thing about Z has always been her passion for activism.  I can’t think of a conversation that I’ve had with Z, where she didn’t talk about service, doing something for others, or what she thinks could be done to make the world a better place.  In trying times like these, seemingly small acts of volunteerism, like becoming a poll worker, makes Z a role model for me, and so many others.  Anyone who walks the walk, and talks the talk, is always worth my time and consideration.  (A side note: We had a different blog lined up for this week, but after the specific acts of hate that took place in my own borough last night, I decided we needed to take it up a notch.  Thank you to Z for making time at the last possible minute).  Here are “5 Questions” for advocate and activist, Lindsey Briggs.

JMK:  At this moment in time, it is impossible not to see how crucial it is to vote.  As a young voting citizen of this country, what made you volunteer to be a poll worker, and what have you learned from the experience?

LB: Following the 2016 election I wanted to be more involved.  Because I have two young kids at home, I can’t show up to meetings or rally’s in the same way that I could before kids.  It occurred to me that helping with the election might be a good fit, and I looked into being a poll worker.  I want to be a friendly face that can help to make the voting process a positive one.  I have learned quite a bit about the election process, and the work that goes into being a poll worker.  I had no idea that all New York state poll workers must arrive at the polling site at 5am and are not dismissed until at least 10pm, but sometimes much later.  We receive two, one hour breaks throughout the day, but it is a very long day.  If you see a poll worker, be sure to say thank you.

JMK:  Z, when I think of you, I think of you as an activist first.  How are you giving your time to your current primary cause?

LB: There are many causes that are very important to me.  Black lives matter and educating others about institutional racism and common sense gun legislation are both topics that I feel very strongly about.  As I said above I don’t have time to attend the meetings and rally’s that I wish I could be at, but instead I make sure to have conversations with people about these topics and do small things in my own way to help promote positive change.

JMK: You are a parent of two young, beautiful and imaginative boys in NYC.  What active measures are you engaging in to teach them compassion?

LB: We talk a lot about empathy and trying to see things from others perspectives.  Everyone’s feelings are important.  I feel very lucky to be raising a family in New York City, as it is so diverse and a wonderful example of so many different people living and working together.

JMK: Anti-Semitism is on the rise again globally and in this country.  Just last night, a synagogue in Brooklyn was vandalized with disgusting graffiti.  The words written on the interior walls of that house of worship makes one’s chest tighten and heart sink.  As an artist and activist, what do you do when you hear of such horrific hate crimes?

LB: I think about what must have happened in that person’s life to make them feel such anger against others.  It makes me sad.  I have hope that the next generation will be an example of understanding, peace and tolerance.

JMK: Agreed!  We must keep hope alive for our children.  On a lighter note, at this time of year, families are gathering around the table to share time together.  They’re also sharing food!  Would you please share what your favorite family dish is and how it makes you feel?  

LB: We have spaghetti and meatballs every single Monday night.  You are all welcome to come.  It is everyone’s favorite meal, and we will likely still be making it every Monday night in 20+ years.

JMK:  You’re awesome.  Thanks for this.  I now officially feel hopeful for Tuesday’s vote. 

Lindsey “Z.” Briggs is the Foundation Manager of The Jim Henson Foundation.  She has been working as a professional puppeteer since 2004 and has had many opportunities to perform in television, internet shorts, pilots, live theater, and independent films.  She studied at the University of Connecticut Puppet Arts masters program for 3 years and has attended and worked as staff for the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.  Z. lives in Astoria, Queens with her husband and 2 children, and performs live puppet theater for families throughout New York City as co-artistic director of WonderSpark Puppets.

5 Questions with NOAA’s Senior Media Relations Specialist, Christopher Vaccaro

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As Hurricane Florence bares down on the Carolina’s, it is hard not to think of those directly effected.  It doesn’t matter where you live, you have likely experienced a major weather related event.  So, it’s understandable that those not in the wake of Florence’s path are still moved by it. Life’s banal activities quickly become seemingly inconsequential when one considers natural disasters. Major environmental events remind us what is most essential in life.  NOAA’s Christopher Vaccaro is one of the people our country entrusts to get essential weather related information to us in a way that makes sense.  Chris’s work, and the work done by his colleagues, are saving lives right now. Here’s “5 Questions with Christopher Vaccaro”.

JMK: Where did your passion for weather come from?

CV: Weather is so influential on our lives and I’ve always been inspired by its power and intrigued by the challenges with predicting its behavior. Weather has daily impacts from what we will wear, to whether we need an umbrella, to how our commute will be affected. Then there are less frequent – yet major – events such as hurricanes, wildfires, tsunamis, blizzards, droughts and floods that demonstrate the true power and force of nature and how vulnerable we can be. This raises the importance of timely and accurate forecasts as to best prepare for such events in advance to save lives and minimize impacts to property.

Most people in the field of meteorology cite a weather event that gave them the “weather bug.” For me, growing up on Long Island in New York, it was Hurricane Gloria in 1985 which brought high winds, heavy rain and the eerie calm eye of the storm as it passed over my childhood home. Snow, especially blizzards, also influenced my fascination. Living near the Atlantic Ocean, some storms brought tremendous snowfall and the wonder of whether school would be closed. However, there were other storms that disappointed snow lovers as the warmer ocean air changed the snow to a wintry slop of sleet and even plain liquid rain.

JMK: As someone who is so focused on science, what do you find satisfying about your role in PR at NOAA – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration?

CV: My job is to make the meteorological information from NOAA and its National Weather Service as understandable and accessible as possible. Such important weather information is conveyed all day, every day across the United States and I find it exceptionally rewarding to know that my efforts help to get that information to those in harm’s way. Often this is done through the media who then convey the information to their audiences. This is also achieved through the agency’s website and social media platforms that reach the public directly.

JMK: Natural disasters are a horrific thing.  What have you learned that uplifted you when you were on the ground?

CV: The worst weather can bring out the best in humanity. Living through a natural disaster can be exceptionally heartbreaking – whether experiencing it directly, seeing it on the news, or through the process of forecasting and warning for it. In 2011, I visited Joplin, Missouri after it was devastated by a tornado rated an EF-5 (the highest on the intensity scale) with winds greater than 200 mph. After a disaster, communities come together to support each other and can more quickly get back on their feet that way. While in Joplin, I visited the Joplin High School which took a direct hit from the tornado. In the school parking lot, a local group was grilling food for anyone who needed a meal – a very warm, yet surreal, sight. As I was standing near the food tent one of the cooks noticed the NOAA logo on my jacket. He walked up to me and said “I know who you are. Thank you.” Even though lives were tragically lost in that historic tornado, he knew that NOAA was the agency that issued the Tornado Warning that saved countless lives.

JMK: You are a frequent traveler.  What area of this country has made the biggest impact on you?

CV: From a career standpoint, that would be the East Coast considering the region’s wide range of weather. But that diversity truly applies to the nation as a whole. Considering the geographical diversity of the U.S. as it spans from one ocean to another, has mountain ranges on both sides and has both a northern climate and elements of a tropical climate, this unique blending of climate zone creates some of the most extreme weather in the world. Nowhere on Earth are there more tornadoes than in the U.S., and our hurricane season commands the attention of a global audience. This nation is the place to be for studying and practicing in meteorology.

JMK:  Natural disasters are inevitable.  As someone located in a major urban hub, I often feel helpless.  What do you recommend for people to do to help?

CV: No matter where you live, it’s critically important to be prepared for the weather. Know your risks (eg: tornadoes in the Midwest; flooding near a river or ocean, etc.) and make a plan on what you would do when life-threatening weather is expected. Have a to-go kit ready in the event you choose to leave your area or are directed to evacuate. Just as you’re prepared for a home fire with smoke alarms, water sprinklers and a fire extinguisher, you also need to have the right tools and information that will have you weather ready. For preparedness tips, I recommend visiting FEMA’s website www.ready.gov

Chris Vaccaro is the Senior Media Relations Specialists for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration based in Washington, D.C., where he leads the development of strategic media-focused communication activities for the agency and serves as a spokesperson. In this role, he supports the mission of protecting lives and property by working with and through the news media to get important information to the public. Previously, Vaccaro held other NOAA communication positions, working on issues regarding climate change, satellites, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and topics related to the ocean and atmosphere. He was also assistant weather editor at USA Today, where he developed exclusive weather and environment-related news content for the print, online and broadcast units. A native of Long Island, N.Y., he graduated from Nassau Community College with an associate’s in physical science, received a bachelor’s with concentrations in meteorology and social science from Lyndon State College, and earned a master’s in communications from the University of Oklahoma.

So Many Questions. So Many Thoughts…


My name is Jean Marie Keevins and I am infinitely curious person.  I genuinely like people and find a great deal of pleasure listening to them and hearing about what makes them tick.  Going back as far as childhood, I have always spent a good deal of my time attending live interviews, reading short and long-form biographies and conducting private interviews myself.  Recently, I found myself with a deep desire to make my intrinsic interest in people more active.  After listening to Brian Grazer talk about his many years of “curiosity conversations”, I thought that’s me!  I need to be doing this, but in my own way.

This blog is intended to create one of may platforms that I will use going forward to simply talk to people.  Innovators, artists, cultural icons, leaders in their respective fields and more.  People that I find interesting.  I can’t wait.

Thanks for joining me!

~Jean Marie

It doesn’t take money to turn off the television and cultivate real bonding time. ~Marianne Williamson

“There’s a rainbow in the sky all the time.  Don’t be blind”. ~Ziggy Marley