Shanelle Gabriel serves as the Executive Director, and has been with Urban Word for many years, first as a teaching artist, then UW’s inaugural Poet-In-Residence, then returning as the Program Director. A former school administrator and M.A. graduate from Teachers College at Columbia University, she has a wide range of experience in nonprofit leadership, organizational evaluation, and  strategic multicultural programming. Shanelle is also a poet, singer, and educator who featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam,  competed in the National and Individual World Poetry Slam Competitions, and has toured internationally.  As an advocate for lupus, she has spoken for the National Institute of Health, featured in Women’s Health Magazine, USA Today, and starred in a mini-documentary on lupus on the Lifetime Network. As the Urban Word Executive Director, Shanelle is responsible for managing our many partnerships, overseeing the organization’s core programming, as well as the strategic planning in support of Urban Word’s mission.

Marissa manages  grant fundraising and reporting for Urban Word. She has 15 years of non-profit fundraising, strategy and board development experience as staff, consultant, and volunteer/Board capacities at youth-serving organizations city- and nationwide. Prior to Urban Word she was the Director of Programs & Grants at a private foundation overseeing all phases of grant funding and administration, from inquiry to award to monitoring and reporting.  Marissa is a graduate of Binghamton University in New York and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Dr. Camea Davis is a poet-researcher and teacher educator with a doctorate in critical educational policy studies. Her research and community work explores minoritized youth civic action and youth spoken word as tools to advance equitable democracy. She is currently managing all participating cities of the National Youth Poet Laureate Program.

Mahogany L. Browne serves as the Artistic Director of Urban Word and one of our most vital community members. She is the inaugural Poet-In-Residence at Lincoln Center, was selected as Kennedy Center’s Next 50, is the Executive Director of JustMedia, a writer, playwright, organizer, & educator. Browne has received fellowships from Arts for Justice, Air Serenbe, Cave Canem, Poets House, Mellon Research & Rauschenberg. She is the author of recent works: Vinyl Moon, Chlorine Sky, Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice, Woke Baby, & Black Girl Magic, and many others. Founder of the diverse lit initiative Woke Baby Book Fair, Browne’s latest poetry collection Chrome Valley (Norton) is a promissory note to survival. As Artistic Director, she connects Urban Word to the wider poetry community, offering advice and connections for programming, and curating our annual Black Girl Magic Ball which serves as a fundraiser for Urban Word as well as a fellowship for young girls and gender expansive youth ages 13-19.

 is a Brooklyn-based poet, screenwriter, visual artist and educator. Her expertise in instructional design and differentiated learning was forged through over a decade of experience in youth-based nonprofits and educational technology. As a curriculum specialist, she co-authored Fresh Ed: A Field Guide to Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (2016), later serving as Project Director for the Fresh Ed integrative arts program. Eboni attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts before going on to become the 2010 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion and the recipient of the 2018 Friends of Literature prize (Poetry Foundation). As Program Director at Urban Word, Eboni manages our roster of teaching artists as well as our core and off-site programming, including school residencies and general artist requests.

Drew Drake is an actor, poet and educator from Huntsville, Alabama focused on creating art that facilitates healthy dialogue for people of color. He currently serves as Urban Word NYC’s Poet-In-Residence. His biggest inspirations are Zora Neale Hurston and Fannie Lou Hamer. Drew was seen in the New York Times Critics Pick “TJ Loves Sally Forever” at Jack Theatre in February and the independent film ” Privilege” which was released in May. Drew is currently teaching with Urban Word NYC, with Rehabilitation through the Arts at Taconic Women’s Correctional Facility, and more. His teaching focuses on eliminating the elitism of eurocentric and white-centered art, and creating more accessibility to different mediums of art for POCs by using Hip Hop and Black Culture as a tool of exploration of English Language Arts, Theatre and Creative Writing. He is a professor of theater at NYU Tisch School of the Arts, and creator of two Hip Hop EPs. Learn more at

Kimberly Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American poet and the author of ghosts in the stalks and Here I Am Burn Me. She is originally from Omaha, Nebraska but currently living in New York City. She is a graduate of Vassar College where she holds a degree in both English and Russian Studies. Additionally, she studied abroad at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. She is a recipient of the Beatrice Daw Brown Prize and two Best of the Net nominations, and she was a finalist for Kundiman’s 2021 Mentorship Lab and the Asian American Writer’s Workshop 2022 Margins Fellowship. She was a 2021 Emerging Voices Fellow at PEN America and is currently a 2022- 2023 Poetry Coalition Fellow with Urban Word where she manages our communications, facilitates workshops with Youth Poet Laureates across the country, and assists with UW programming.

Michael Cirelli served as Urban Word’s Executive Director for over 15 years, and in 2008 he founded the National Youth Poet Laureate Program. His work supports the strategic growth of Youth Poet Laureate Programs nationally, and elevating platforms for young poets, leaders and changemakers.

Interested in joining our Board of Directors?

Are you or is someone you know looking for ways to be more involved in your community, support a vital Black-led organization, and amplify the creative, educational, and professional development of young people in NYC and across the country? As we expand our capacity and community, we are excited to grow our board. We welcome expertise and fresh ideas from all industries. If this is exciting to you, email and our Board Development Committee will quickly be in touch.