SNF Agora Hosts Elijah E. Cummings Freedom and Democracy Festival

On Feb. 7-8, the SNF Agora Institute hosted the 2023 Elijah E. Cummings Freedom and Democracy Festival, a two-day event bringing together scholars, practitioners, artists, and the local community to grapple with democratic challenges and celebrate democratic resilience.

The festival kicked off on Feb. 7 with “Baltimore Butterfly Sessions: Pop the Vote,” hosted in partnership with Baltimore Center Stage, in the Gilman Atrium on Homewood campus. “Pop the Vote” highlighted the importance of artists and creators in uplifting social activism and civic engagement, and featured musical performances by Scott Patterson and John Tyler, a spoken word performance by 2016 National Poetry Slam champion Lady Brion, and a keynote address from Emily White, founder of the #iVoted Music Festival.

Watch the full event here:


The following day, the festival moved to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in downtown Baltimore. An afternoon of events around the theme of “cities and citizenship” featured opening remarks by Lewis Museum executive director Terri Freeman, SNF Agora director Hahrie Han, Maya Rockeymoore Cummings (who created the festival in 2021), Senator Barbara Mikulski, and Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott.

The festival’s plenary discussion, “Activating Local Democracy,” highlighted innovative ways cities big and small are bringing more people into the democratic process. Laura Wood, who served as New York City’s chief democracy officer, led a discussion with Lancaster, PA Mayor Danene Sorace and Terrance Smith, a Bloomberg Center for Public Innovation Fellow at Johns Hopkins who previously led an innovation team in Mobile, Alabama.

Watch the recording of the opening remarks and panel here:

The panel was followed by a series of breakout sessions that offered festival-goers the opportunity to engage with advocates, scholars, and civic leaders working to improve the culture of democracy in their communities.

Dinner, led by The People’s Supper, was a shared meal with guided conversation meant to build trust and connection among people of different identities and perspectives.

The evening culminated with a debate on voting rights featuring political strategists Symone Sanders and Karl Rove, hosted by NBC correspondent and JHU alumna Hallie Jackson. This was the first marquee debate of SNF Agora’s new university debate initiative.