BWW Blog: We Must Be Here for Black Lives
I'm here. These words are championed by theatrical hero Celie from The Color Purple. These words inspire Celie to scream out to the world that she is beautiful and has the right to live a wonderful life. These words must echo across the nation in support of black lives. We all must be here for black lives.
As a white student at the University of Pennsylvania, I am privileged just like many of my fellow students. It is unacceptable for my fellow students and I to ignore this fact. We must use our privilege to draw attention to societal issues. We must stand with our black peers in the fight against police brutality and racism. If we can afford to attend a private university, we can certainly use our money and voices in this fight. I am thankful that many Penn student organizations have created programs to match students' donations to organizations like the NAACP and the Philadelphia Bail Fund. From the performing arts community to Greek life, I see Penn students coming together to tackle racial injustices.
Nevertheless, donating and even signing petitions is simply not enough to make a lasting difference. Posting on social media in an effort to follow trends and sustain one's image does not do anything. We need to educate ourselves and others by providing each other with valuable resources to become antiracist. By learning about history's injustices and their effects on current policies and social perspectives, we can enact change through voting. Voting for fair policies and antiracist leaders will help destroy racial inequities and ensure future generations do not revert back to our mistakes.
The most powerful resources I have encountered to learn about the black experience exist in the theatre world. Books, documentaries, podcasts, and speeches are certainly filled with valuable information. However, works of art also highlight the black experience of the past and present. From the silver screen to the stage, we have seen many narratives challenge us to reflect on our morals and battle injustices. We can learn how the world could be and what it should never be from plays and musicals that address racism, discrimination, socioeconomic inequality, police brutality, black culture, and more.
My fellow Quadramics Theatre Company board member Cristle Ike, a rising Sophomore, has expressed that we can learn about the black experience from a casting perspective too. When she was in high school, there were no other black people in her theatre group, and she did not always have the same resources as white students. She has connected this experience to how in many Broadway shows, black people are only cast in stereotypical black roles unlike how Hamilton is cast. She asserts that one should "take time to sit and self-reflect on the unconscious bias you may have that affects and discourages the lives and careers of so many actors. I am asking you to make sure we are provided for and welcome." In regard to theatrical works emphasizing the black experience, she states that "a lot of times people shy away from controversial musicals and plays because of the racial themes. I think that should be discouraged in order to encourage more dialogue." It is essential that we put controversial works in the spotlight and stop linking a work's character with a racial stereotype. Through these efforts, we can begin to have dialogue on the role of race and ethnicity in society thanks to the arts.
I now urge you to consider not only donating to worthy organizations in this fight against racism, but also to immerse yourself, friends, and family in the plethora of resources right at our fingertips. Read a play, listen to an original cast recording, watch a recorded play or musical, read about the impact of a production, and consider what you can learn about the black experience from the theatre world. In the digital age of e-books and streaming services, there is no excuse to ignore any resources. There is no excuse to allow silence to become violence just like there is no excuse to not channel Celie's iconic words. There is no excuse to not be here for our black peers.
Below are some of my favorite plays and musicals that we can learn from as well as major organizations to donate to.
Ain't Too Proud - The Life and Times of The Temptations
The Color Purple
Motown: The Musical
Once on this Island
Shuffle Along, or The Making of the Musical Sensation of 1921 and All That Followed Summer: The Donna Summer Musical
Tina: The Tina Turner Musical
A Raisin in the Sun (Lorraine Hansberry)
Choir Boy (Tarell Alvin McCraney)
Detroit '67 (Dominique Morisseau)
Fences (August Wilson)
Jitney (August Wilson)
To Kill a Mockingbird (Aaron Sorkin)
Slave Play (Jeremy O. Harris)
Black Lives Matter
Broadway for Racial Justice
Color of Change
Minnesota Freedom Fund List of Worthy Organizations
Official George Floyd Memorial Fund
Philadelphia Bail Fund
Reclaim the Block
(Don't forget to look for resources in your local community too!)