The summer after his first year, Sonari traveled with the Penn-in-Cannes summer abroad course to attend the Cannes International Film Festival and study the international film business, firsthand. Later that summer, Sonari participated in the Penn-in-Kenya summer-abroad program during which Penn students worked with refugee filmmakers in the Kakuma Refugee Camp to create films to introduce newly arrived refugees to essential services in the camp.
Sonari looks forward to traveling to Amman, Jordan with his Human Rights, Forced Migration & Education course, a Penn Global Seminar team-taught by professors in political science, law, and education, providing a multi-disciplinary and experiential approach to the issues.
Sonari took a first year seminar called Homelessness and Urban Inequality, which examined the problem of homelessness from a variety of scientific and policy perspectives. This course highlighted multiple ways to examine large societal problems and inspired him to think about other issues with new eyes. He then took the yearlong Visual Legal Advocacy course at Penn Law, which combined his interests in legal and social advocacy with film. As part of the course, he and his team made an advocacy video about grassroots immigrant organizing in Philadelphia. In addition, Sonari is a CAMRA Fellow, working on a documentary film on media representation of refugees, as the culmination of an independent research project.
Sonari came to Penn as an experienced actor, with credits including ABC’s Modern Family and The Thundermans on Nickelodeon. He chose Penn because he was interested in telling impactful stories as a filmmaker on the other side of the camera, and he wanted an interdisciplinary, globally oriented, liberal arts education. At Penn, Sonari has enjoyed taking classes that combine his interests in Cinema and Media Studies and Africana Studies.
During his first year, he took a class called Cinema and Civil Rights with Professor Karen Redrobe, which explored the connections between film and the struggles for racial, cultural, and gender equality. The power of film to not only document but also to educate, inspire, and advocate in a powerful and personal way, confirmed Sonari’s decision to double major in Cinema and Africana Studies. He discovered that Penn offers many opportunities to share one’s voice, from filmmaking clubs to residential programs with students who share similar interests, to a variety of student publications. Sonari's work has been published in The Daily Pennsylvanian and Impact, Penn’s social justice magazine and website.
Inspired by his experiences in Kenya, Sonari co-founded and serves as co-President of Penn FilmAid, an organization that uses film as a tool for social change, on behalf of refugees and immigrants. In recognition of this work, Sonari and Penn FilmAid co-president Nicholas Escobar, have been named the winners of the 2018 Sol Feinstone Undergraduate Award for contributing to orderly and constructive social and educational change within and outside the university community.
Sonari is inspired by how often his professors and peers expand the boundaries of what is possible in cross-disciplinary thinking and scholarship. With guidance from Professor Stephanie Boddie, Sonari participates in the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program, which awards fellowships for Penn students to explore a wide variety of nonprofit, public service, education, and media topics. As a Fox Research and Service Fellow, Sonari has worked on a mixed-media research project inspired by the work of civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois, which combines documentary film, oral history, music, and community-based conversations to catalogue the socio-cultural journey of people of African ancestry. He will co-present this work at an international conference in Montreal, Canada. He has also worked on a project exploring how religion and education are interrelated in Philadelphia.
The breadth of opportunities, commitment to innovation, and ease of access to unparalleled resources and support have made his time at Penn exciting and challenging.
Supporting Penn’s commitment to producing future leaders through research, service fellowships, teaching, advising, and service learning; the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program equips students in all four undergraduate schools with hands-on leadership experience and connects them with successful leaders—including Penn alumni and senior University faculty and administrators—for discussion and mentorship.