Meet The Jury


Don Mays

Chair, Festival Jury

Festival Artistic Director

A self-described Artist, Educator, Activist/Advocate, as a filmmaker, writer and theatre director, all of Mays’ work has a focus on issues of social justice. In 1995, Mays founded the independent film production company, AFRI Productions and soon after wrote, directed and produced his first feature film, Same Difference, and traveled to Uganda to shoot the web documentary, The Virtual Visit, with Plan International USA, a children’s rights organization. Both projects dealt with the AIDS epidemic and communities most impacted at the time.

The series, God Talks To An Agnostic, a collaboration between AFRI Productions and the Wilbury Theatre Group in Providence, RI, is Mays’ latest creation. The series, a provocative 12-part audio-play which examines of the role of religion in Black culture (past/present/future), aired on Rhode Island public radio RIPR and is available on podcast was written, directed and produced by Mays, who also plays the role of the lead character. He is currently writing season two which will air, starting in December 2021. Additional writing credits include several feature film scripts such as, In The Loop, Last Christmas, Aesop’s Chop Shop, That Long Hot Summer and Dr. Frankenstein (And the Monster of Blacktopia), an adaptation of the popular book/film in which Dr. Frankenstein is Black and he creates the first White man, totally flipping the script on racism. Mays plans to shoot the Frankenstein film, on location in Rhode Island (Barrington’s Belton Castle) which is perfect for the film’s 1930s-40s setting. Short films to his credit include, The Box Preacher (a version of which was screened in HBO’s short film series), and These Truths, screened most recently at our very own, FLM FWD Festival Barrington.

For many years Mays has directed for local professional theatres and universities. His directing credits include, Yellowman, The Bluest Eye and The Colored Museum at the Providence Black Rep, Hypeman and Miss You Like Hell at the Wilbury Theatre Group and Cabaret at Brown University. This fall he will be directing CLUE at URI. (please also see the section: Organizers)


Karen Allen Baxter

Karen Allen Baxter started her career as an arts administrator at the legendary New Lafayette Theatre, Harlem, New York. She also co-produced the Grammy-nominated soundtrack album Reggae Sunsplash - A Tribute to Bob Marley. From 1987 to 1999, she produced the Annual AUDELCO Awards which honor excellence in Black Theatre. Before coming to Rites & Reason, Karen was the executive director of the Frank Silvera Writers' Workshop (FSWW), one of the oldest Harlem-based playwrights' laboratories.

As Producer/Managing Director, Department of Africana Studies/Rites and Reason Theatre, she produces each show as well as The Black Lavender Experience – Theatre and Conversation Sparked by Queer Artists of Color; and the Africana Film Festival. In October 2014, she curated the exhibition at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, Black Experience at Brown. She studies the West African language, Bambara and worked with the Trilateral Reconnections Project with the University of Cape Town, SA, Brown University and the University of the West Indies. She also teaches and serves on many boards and committees. She chaired The New Lafayette Theatre Project, NYC; and currently chairs the SonEdna Foundation, Karen holds a BS in sociology from the City University of New York, a Certificate in Arts Management from Harvard University, and a MS in Arts Management from Lesley University. She was awarded a 2-year scholarship by August Wilson and completed the Minority Business Executive Program at the Amos Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth College.


April Brown 

April Brown is an educator, ordained minister, poet, singer and actor living in Providence, RI.  She has performed in the United States, Japan, and Israel.  Ms. Brown holds a B.A. from The American University in Washington, DC and an Ed.M. from the University of Rhode Island. She is the program director of the Langston Hughes Community Poetry Reading.  Her passion for arts and culture education manifested itself with experience in museum work with the Smithsonian Folklife and Cultural Heritage and the National Museum of American History she worked on the as an artist programmer for the 2004 and 2008 Folklife Festival, the National World War II Reunion on the Mall and the Celebration of Baseball. 

Locally she has worked with Rhode Island Black Storytellers and the National Association of Black Storytellers as the African marketplace director. Recently, she served as the Local Program Director for Turnaround Arts: Providence. She has worked in educational systems with a focus on cultural engagement; professional development; and local community activism.  She has held several community at large leadership positions for arts organizations, as a seasoned professional and as a volunteer. + @mshelene1


Andy Russ 

Andy Russ is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, and active generalist based in Providence, RI.  With over 30 years working professionally in the arts, he has worn many creative hats: choreographer, composer, curator, dancer, designer, director, editor, engineer, manager, producer, and teacher.  Originally from North Carolina, with degrees in Music and Dance from Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio, he spent 10 years in New York City, where he was Music Supervisor for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.  In 2005, he relocated to Rhode Island to take on the role of Artistic Coordinator for cellist Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Project, during which time he was producer of the Grammy nominated album Off the Map. 

He currently designs lights, sound, and projections for regional theatre companies, teaches integrated art and music at The Wolf School, in East Providence, teaches dance and film at Roger Williams University, co-directs art presenting nonprofit Motion State Arts, and creates interdisciplinary performances as Passive Aggressive Novelty Company. 


Roderick D. Giles

Roderick D. Giles knows how to tell a story. From his humble beginnings as a production assistant to CEO of Clarendon Entertainment, Inc, the NY Foundation for the Arts fellowship recipient is a two-time Emmy award-nominated cameraman and director who has spent the better half of the last two decades doing what he does best – chronicle stories that are meaningful to the urban community.

To date, his directing credits consist of short and feature films, documentaries, music videos, and tv, including the features Same Difference (2000 Acapulco black film festival) and urban horror tale, Golddigger Killer (2005 Harlem film festival), the short films Love Cycles, Blue Decrescendo, The Date (starring Wendell Pierce), Gully (starring Tyson Beckford), Shootout, The Engagement Party, Paperchase and the dark comedy short Hung-up, starring Sex and the City’s David Eilenberg.