“Maria” on Sesame Street & Best-Selling Author
For over 40 years, Sonia Manzano inspired, educated, and delighted children and families as "Maria" on Sesame Street. Named among the “25 Greatest Latino Role Models Ever” by Latina Magazine, Manzano broke ground as one of the first Hispanic characters on national television. Throughout her career, she has continued to contribute to enriching diversity on television, on the stage, and in the educational realm. A first generation Puerto Rican born on the mainland, Manzano’s tale is one of perseverance and courage as she overcame countless obstacles to become one of the most influential Latinas in television.
Manzano was raised in the South Bronx, where her involvement in the arts was inspired by teachers who encouraged her to audition for the High School of Performing Arts. She was accepted there and began her career as an actress. A scholarship took her to Carnegie Mellon Univerisity in Pittsburgh, and in her junior year, she came to New York to star in the original production of the off-Broadway show Godspell. Within a year, Manzano joined the production of Sesame Street, where she eventually began writing scripts for the series.
After forty-four years she decided to retire from Sesame Street and author books. Her book titles include a The Revolution of Evelyn Serrano and a memoir, Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx (Scholastic). Becoming Maria was praised by Kirkus Reviews for its “lyrical and unflinching account of her tough Nuyorican upbringing in the South Bronx,” and calls it a “touching memoir.” “Manzano lovingly details life-changing moments,” with a “stark and heartbreaking contrast to her Sesame Street character.”
She's penned three picture books with Simon and Schuster. Her latest book called A World Together (National Geographic) aims to promote unity by celebrating cultural and generational diversity.
Recently, Scholastic and Manzano partnered to launch two middle-grade novels and two picture books. The first of which is Coming Up Cuban, which was released in the summer of 2022. Coming Up Cuban is set in 1959 and follows the lives of four children who each represent different intersections of race and class in Cuba.
Ms. Manzano has created and developed with Fred Rogers Productions an animated children's program for PBS. Alma's Way premiered in Oct 2021.
Sonia Manzano knows a thing or two about determination. Now twice nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Performer in a Children's Series, Manzano didn’t have a lot of resources as a child growing up in the South Bronx. Immensely talented, Sonia never gave up.
Dr. Gina Forrest
Dr. Gina Forrest is a native of Bloomington, Indiana. She graduated from Indiana University with a Master of Public Health and a PhD in Health Behavior, focusing on Health Disparities.
Dr. Forrest is also veteran educator, trainer, researcher, and thought leader who has been focusing on inclusivity issues for many years. She previously served as Chief Diversity Officer of the Indiana Supreme Court, lecturer and Director of Workforce Development and Community Engagement at Indiana University, and Executive Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Butler University. She also has experience as a clinic manager and health educator and now serves Aspire Indiana Health as its new Chief Culture Officer (CCO).
How to have difficult conversations
Adar Cohen is a mediator. For 20 years he has led conversations in conflict zones, family rooms, and other places where people can change the world. His work has been featured by the New York Times, MSNBC, and on the TED stage. Adar holds a PhD in conflict resolution from the University of Dublin. He has lectured at Harvard University, the University of Chicago, and at the invitation of the King of Bhutan, at Sherubste College, the Himalayan Kingdom’s first institution for higher education. He is a co-founder of Civic Leadership Foundation, which has supported over 25,000 young people in preparing for success in school, in their careers, and as citizens. His book, Jimmie Lee & James, is now available in paperback. Adar lives in New Hampshire where he and his wife are raising two tough little negotiators.