People who know me, know me, know I was the kid who danced all of the time with friends, in front of my parent’s friends at house parties, alone in my room. My family will tell you, from elementary through high school, no one had to beg me to dance. When the music came on, I was on. I also liked to sing jazz and classical music in the company of myself, gospel music at church, rock and roll and pop music from the radio and R&B all the time, especially on Saturdays when my mother would play Roberta Flack, Peabo Bryson, Natalie Cole, Luther Vandross, Earth Wind & Fire, Frankie Beverly & Maze and my very first record, Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall. My step-father played the blues from the radio and I could not stand it! But he’d make up for it when he played Cutie Pie, Double Dutch Bus, Rick James, The S.O.S. and Gap Band and Rapper’s Delight by The Sugarhill Gang.
My life was full of music and dancing. But I fell in love with theatre around the same time. I remember in third or fourth grade my school was doing Babes in Toyland. The only character I wanted to play at the time was one of the toy soldiers. Instead, I and any other child who looked like me played animals without speaking roles. Back then, it didn’t matter, I had no idea what was going on. Plus, I had been bitten by the bug. I continued to dance and do theater in middle and high school, even received a full-ride scholarship to college where I majored in theater.
I took a break to commit to my family, raise my children, and toured the country singing. When I returned to the theatre, it was not inclusive. The same people were at the table, pushing their own exclusive, supremacist agenda, not casting people of color because they ‘didn’t have any roles that fit them’ and when people of color were cast, they were cast as maids, servants, slaves, animals, gang members, thieves, someone evil. The same way I left the theater community was the same way I found it in the early two-thousands.
I worked with a few actors on independent projects, did commercials and print ads. I joined the one Black theatre company in my city who had been around for about ten years, good people who produced good work, were all about the Black community, was severely underfunded and only doing a certain type of work with little focus on youth and mentorship opportunities so I continued working with them (because I love them), and founded an organization called World Stage Theatre (shameless plug) to cultivate a welcoming environment, share my love of the art with underserved and underrepresented communities, especially youth who historically, had been excluded from exploring, learning and telling other stories on stage. Stories that uplift who they are, invoke pride, strength, courage, truth, deal with issues important to youth and adults. That was fourteen years ago. I can’t believe it’s been that long.
During the summers, my organization holds camps for students K-8. Our themes are centered around social and environmental issues. A few years ago we explored homelessness, the stigma surrounding the word, the people we see. I was impressed, even the kindergarteners had an opinion on this topic and what they’ve observed riding in the car with their parents. Some of the older students confessed their parents have a strong opinion concerning homeless people too like not giving them money because they will keep begging for more, go get alcohol, or drugs because most of them are on drugs, been in jail, there’s a reason people live on the streets and it’s usually because they want to be there. I listened then gave them some facts… Once we all knew the truth we came up with a few things we could do individually and collectively in our own communities, to help change the narrative.
I get so emotional (insert Whitney Houston here) every time I think about how thoughtful they were. That is the power of art, it changes peoples lives, the way we think and interact with one another, allows us to explore different perspectives. Like a good book, theatre will take you on a journey, a wonderful adventure, pull your heartstrings, broaden your imagination, play on all your emotions and bring you back to reality. Rather I’m running my theater company, performing on stage, writing plays, books, singing, or teaching, I am beyond grateful to have the awesome privilege of creating and sharing art for a living, of doing what I love.
Writing Prompt: What inspires you?