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April 5, 2016

Accepting the Call


When Keith Josef Adkins, a dear friend and colleague reached out to me about commissioning me for Facing Our Truth, I thought – Keith did it again! How did he beat me to the punch? I was absolutely going to reach out to him to brainstorm how we as artists can take action about the George Zimmerman verdict.

I remember the night I heard that he would not be convicted. I was on a family reunion trip with my husband. He was about to go out to spend our last night on the trip with his cousins at a bar. The news came and all I wanted to do was go home. I felt emotionally bankrupt. My husband tried to convince me to come out but I refused. I stayed in the bed and tried to make the nightmare go away. We are too expendable, I kept thinking as I fell asleep. Far too damn expendable.

As an artist, my power is my pen (figuratively). And yet, I didn’t know how to use it. The anger and the injustice made me mute. But luckily I am not an artist in a silo; I am a part of a village. And when fellow members of the village contemplate action, it becomes electric.

Keith told me the other writers he had approached. I was excited. We are very different in background, culture, aesthetic, and perspective. This was the best way to have an inter-community dialogue around the matters of race and privilege.

For me, ten minutes leaves nothing to do but scratch the surface, and yet ten minutes also makes a matter and story extremely urgent. We don’t have a lot of time, so we have to get right at the heart of the matter. I took inspiration from a moment my husband and I had of a similar nature in Brooklyn. Having been a victim of police harassment and racial profiling several times under NY’s Stop and Frisk laws, my husband is particularly hesitant to call the police on Black men. Especially at night when visibility is low and we cannot see clearly enough to identify suspects specifically. He knows what too many of us now know – lack of specificity means that all Black men become suspect.

I wanted to explore something different in my play. I knew that most of our audiences were likely to be more empathetic to Trayvon Martin than the jury was. So I wanted to explore my personal role as a Black woman in the narrative of Black men being endangered. Is it just through white privilege? Are only white people afraid of Black men? Does that mean only White police officers have been infected by these biases? Or have we ALL, as a society, been abused by negative imaging of Black men so consistently that we ALL are a part of their marginalization?

I don’t necessarily have the answers to these questions. Nonetheless, in my play Night Vision, I explore them from my purview because that is where I feel most impactful. Not in shaking a finger. Not in telling audiences how and what to think. But if I am truly going explore race and privilege, I cannot erase myself from the experience.

And so as a Black woman, this play was my first offering in a long line of action around these issues that have not only resulted in a powerful new Black liberation movement, but also in an international conversation around racism and brutality that continues to poison our collective humanity.

Facing our Truth was conceived and originally produced by the New Black Fest, with Artistic Director Keith Josef Adkins. The New Black Fest is for everyone and anyone who supports elevating and celebrating Black theatre around the world, in a fresh way. Click here to learn more.

To purchase a copy of Facing Our Truth, click here, and to learn more about licensing a production, click here.