PBS series ‘The Light’ by UW–Madison alumna Sanders wins Chicago Emmy


UW–Madison alumna Zhalarina Sanders has created an autobiographical music video series entitled “The Light with PBS Wisconsin, which she wrote, acted in, and produced. Originally released in May 2020, the series won an Emmy in the Chicago/Midwest region for Outstanding Achievement in Arts/Entertainment Programming.

Photo of Zhalarina Sanders in
Sanders acts as her high school self in “The Light,” a series of three music videos she wrote, acted in, and produced for PBS Wisconsin.

Sanders earned her master’s degree from the School of Education’s Department of Counseling Psychology in 2018. She also earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from UW–Madison.

Fusing hip hop and theater arts, “The Light” tells the forbidden love story of a girl exploring queer identity at the onset of the 21st century’s evolving negotiation of gender and sexuality. Told through a series of three sequential music videos, Sanders plays both herself and her mother, Diji.

“Life has great moments and it has not so great moments. To talk about and work through and make a show of the ‘not so great moments’ — it’s been a challenge,” says Sanders on creating “The Light.” 

“But, it’s been so fulfilling and edifying to be able to take very personal moments and create the world that existed around them 10 years ago in a set. That blew my mind.”

A rapper, actress, playwright, and producer, Sanders serves as co-founder of The JVN Project, a hip-hop centered nonprofit that seeks to uplift underprivileged communities through the arts, youth mentorship, and social justice initiatives. She has performed her award-winning work in the United States and abroad, appearing on stages such as the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway and the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in London. 

As an undergraduate student at UW–Madison, Sanders was a member of the First Wave Scholars, for which she was featured in the PBS Wisconsin documentary, “Hip-Hop U.”

“The Light” is available for viewing on the PBS Wisconsin website.