Graduate Student

Office: 303 Bingham Hall
Office Hours: By appointment





B.A., International Relations, Stanford University

M.A., Communication Studies, St. Mary’s University



Sonny Kelly is a scholar, teacher, performer, storyteller, and motivational. Currently pursuing a PhD in Communication & Performance Studies at UNC Chapel Hill, Sonny is a graduate of St. Mary’s University (MA, Communication Studies, ’08) and Stanford University (BA, International Relations, ’98).  Currently, his research is focused on Critical Performance Ethnography, Critical Pedagogy, and Youth Activism/Empowerment.  Sonny is currently pursuing UNC’s Graduate Certificate in Participatory Research (GCPR).  During the Summer of 2015, he started research doing performance/performed ethnography work youth in Fayetteville, NC funded by the GCPR Seed Grant.  His dissertation entitled Pipelines to Pathways: Performatively Reframing and Reclaiming Black Youth Identity presents a critical performance-centered approach to the criminalization of Black youth and the School to Prison Pipeline.  Sonny seeks innovative and effective approaches to addressing the sundry gaps that exist in education, health and welfare between thriving and marginalized students, as well as the School-to-Prison Pipeline that disproportionately threatens marginalized youth in the United States.  Sonny has served as a U.S. Air Force officer, a non-profit organization director, university admissions counselor, award winning pharmaceutical salesman, college Communication instructor, and a church youth pastor. Sonny has also acted professionally on stage and television for over 30 years.   He wrote and performs a one-person autoethnographical performance piece called The Talk that addresses the challenge that parents of Black children experience as they seek to prepare these children to survive and thrive in a racialized America.  He continues to perform on stages, in schools and in diverse community venues in cooperation with the Arts Council of Fayetteville & Cumberland County, Cumberland County Schools, Pitt County Schools, the National Association of Black Storytellers, the Black Storytellers Alliance and a number of institutions and organizations.  Sonny is currently touring with story teller Mitch Capel in a 2-man production called The Color of Courage that tells the stories of African American soldiers who fought for the Union Army during the Civil War.  This project is a recipient of the UNC Chapel Hill Performing Arts Special Activities Fund grant and the Fayetteville Technical Community College Foundation grant.  He one of the founding members of UNC Chapel Hill’s Hurston Collective – a group of interdisciplinary graduate students who apply critical performance-centered approaches to their research and work.  Sonny has also served as a facilitator and performer with Theater Delta, an organization that conducts interactive theater for social change across the U.S. He continues to volunteer with youth programs like Boomerang Youth, Inc., which serves suspended youth in Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, as well as Fayetteville Urban Ministry’s Find-A-Friend program, serving at-risk youth in Cumberland County.  He is also a participating artist with Cumberland County’s Misdemeanor Diversionary Program designed to keep 16 and 17 year-old youths out of the criminal justice system.  No matter where he is, or what he is doing, Sonny’s passion for teaching, engaging and empowering others is unmistakable.