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The Core Team


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Vanessa Wright

Vanessa Page Wright is a former Talent Agent turned Filmmaker with a lifelong vision to create documentaries that preserve Black legacies via multifaceted historical storytelling. Through an empathetic, candid lens, she also aims to critically analyze race, culture, and identity within the Black community. Currently, she serves as the Founding Director of Tellers Untold and an Adjunct Professor at Columbia College Chicago.

Vanessa’s most recent creative venture is the award-winning documentary SANKOFA CHICAGO, which was sponsored by the Illinois Arts Council. Since its debut, this film has already received numerous awards, including “Best Educational Film” from Cannes World Film Festival (June 2021), the “Outstanding Achievement Award” from the Black Swan International Film Festival, and “Best Educational Film” from Druk International Film Festival (October 2021). This quickly earned success inspired her to turn SANKOFA CHICAGO into a full-blown docuseries.


She is also the behind-the-scenes Creator, Director, Writer, and Cinematographer of a web series called Your Kid Professors that provides children with a fun and engaging way to learn more about Black history.


Prior to that, Vanessa Page Wright was the Director of a documentary thesis project called Big Ten Athletes. Another multi-award-winning film that also aired on an ABC affiliate station, featured prominent former NFL and NBA athletes from The Ohio State University.



Shelby Hawkins

Shelby Hawkins served as Sankofa Chicago's cinematographer and co-producer.  She's had an assistantship that allowed her to write for an online newspaper called AustinTalks, which covers Chicago's Austin neighborhood.  Hawkins also helped to create an hour-long radio story detailing the lives of small business owners, immigrant families and essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. It premiered on Chicago's WCRX in May 2021. 

She has a Bachelor's in Multimedia Photojournalism from Columbia College Chicago, and an M.A. in Civic Media, from the same institution. Shelby is currently working as a Producer for NPR's Morning Edition.

Episode 1

James Parrish Smith

Episode 1

James Parrish (J.P.) Smith, aka "WOLFF," is unique in that his musical influences include classical, blues, r&b, rock, and jazz. He prefers his sound as an eclectic mix of genre-bending "Hybrid Soul." 

He honed his musical skills, studying classical music and playing the violin. He learned the electric bass during the afternoon and evenings while performing with the legendary house band at the Peppermint Lounge of the South. During the early years, he had the experience of travelling with legendary artists like B.B.King, Lil Milton, O.V.Wright, Ted Taylor, Jimmy Hughes, Josephine Armstead, Etta James, and Howling Wolf to list a few. He was so impressed with Howling Wolf that he now performs under WOLFF. 

Smith received a four-year string music scholarship cut short after attending two state universities to pursue a degree in classical strings. However, fate had an alternate path for his journey. As fate would have it, Smith devoted a forty-year hiatus from his passion to serving thousands of youth and adults in not-for-profit leadership and as a secondary counselor. 


Christy Spence

A native of the California Bay Area, Christy Spence recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago, where she obtained her bachelor’s degree in Live and Performing Arts Management. She completed two entertainment industry-based internships where she discovered her love for diverse and informed casting as well as acted as a PA for multiple TV and film shoots during her time in Chicago. 


When she is not working you can find her enjoying the art form of drag, crocheting a new top, or scouring vintage shops for interesting finds. 

Episode 1



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Raphael Nash


Raphael Nash is an award-winning independent film producer, director, and adjunct professor at DePaul University's School of Cinematic Arts. He is the owner of Endangered Peace Productions, where they write, produce, and direct original films, and work with brands & non-profits to execute an array of video projects. His teaching is centered in the representation of race & ethnicity in film, and creating spaces for under-represented communities in film production.



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