Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

The late great actor-director-educator Frank Wittow remains one of my favorite figures in Atlanta’s rich theatre history.  His work with the late, great Georgia Allen was second to none—He placed this multi-talented Black woman in a non-servant role on an Atlanta stage in the early 1960s when the city and indeed the nation were still grappling with the idea that maybe Black folk were more than just the servants of White folk. Georgia Allen had appeared in numerous films and theatre productions throughout the nation and on the campuses of Spelman and Clark Colleges, and Wittow was wise enough to recognize Allen’s superior gifts.  He was simply a different kind of White man. There were no syrupy and useless White liberal platitudes about race relations spewing out of his mouth—he just did what he wanted to do.

Now, Allen predated Wittow’s arrival in Atlanta and she had a much longer career, and to fully honor her contributions to all of the arts and to education would require writing a tome. So, I will save that project for a later date.  Much like Allen, however, Wittow directed, trained, and mentored some of the best performers on the planet and took theatre performances into Atlanta Public Schools throughout much of his life.  He did this almost to the day he died in 2006.  One of his younger protégées had the benefit of his training…

Her name is Nevaina Rhodes—her first name is pronounced “Nih-Von-yah” like “lasagna.”  The first time I saw her perform, I did not know she had any affiliation with Wittow.  When she told me her basic philosophy about acting there was something refreshingly new about her approach to her craft, but also something rather familiar…Let me explain…

You see, when I was growing up in Atlanta, an actor, a musician, a poet, an academic, an intellectual, was simply part of the community in which we all lived.  Importantly, you had to participate in the arts and the humanities, and it did not matter if you had talent or an exceptional intellect or not.  While I adore and admire many younger performers and scholars—and by younger, I mean anyone born after the Baby Boom—I find an increasing number of them who are quite insular; they have fewer connections to each other or with the folk in the communities where they live.  Unlike the Atlanta of my childhood, in recent years I have attended far too many functions filled with musicians, actors, poets, filmmakers, and historians and I end up being the only person in the room who actually knows everybody in that room…

Well, to make a long story short, Nevaina’s conceptualization of Real Actors Workshop (RAW) makes it open to amateur and professional alike.  Her basic theory is that whether you are a professional actor or not, all of us humans act and perform in certain ways depending on the circumstances.  In other words, she insists that, we all are actors. Although she is a North Carolinian by birth, her approach feels much like the Atlanta of my youth, where the long theatre traditions on the campuses of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and people like Georgia Allen and Frank Wittow made certain that theatre reached who it was supposed to reach—the people. We were not a community of strangers…everybody knew everybody, which is the way it should be.

I should add that I am writing this to inform you that Nevaina is not only a dazzling performer and an amazing drama coach, but she is also a real survivor. Native Atlantans, in particular, love people with a strong work ethic and those who bounce back when things do not always go as planned.  Less than five years ago, Nevaina miraculously and fully recovered from a stroke that could have easily killed her; and she remained positive while she also endured some personal losses that probably would have destroyed some weaker souls.

Today her Real Actors Workshop (RAW) is headquartered at Dream Café, Atlanta’s first cafe and empowerment lounge, which is owned by Nevaina and her partners, Jay White and Stevie Baggs.  Dream Café‘s premise is simple.  It is designed to be a place where artists, intellectuals, young and old folk can meet and greet and talk and achieve their dreams, over coffee and healthy food.  This concept and these young owners have my support not only because it feels familiar to me, but because it feels right…and it also feels rather cyclical…

Now, I am aware that my hometown has changed.  Nothing stays the same, nor should it stay the same.  Yet, there are some core elements that we must never lose—namely, the ability to connect with each other and exchange ideas.  Not even a semblance of community can survive if we lose this ability.  So, I am proud to call Nevaina a friend. It has been a great privilege to watch her perform; and I have been encouraged by her intellect, her big smile, and her big spirit…I am also certain that Wittow (and Allen) are watching her from that place where great souls go when they leave this earth…So, in honor of them and in honor of future generations, go visit the Dream Café, and write your dream on the wall. Àṣé!

To learn more about Real Actors Workshop (RAW), and Nevaina’s distinguished career as an actor, drama coach, and public speaker, click here: Nevaina Rhodes Inspirational Speaker and Drama Therapy Specialist.

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Ava, Oprah, Moms, Dads, and Cheerleaders!

Leslye Joy Allen @ Spelman College Archives. Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen @ Spelman College Archives. Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This is not a review of the film SELMA. However, I will say I saw it on Christmas Day when it was in limited release and let me put it this way—I had one of the best Christmas’ ever. Brilliantly acted, superbly directed. I dig Sister Ava DuVernay because she is a Black Woman, but also a young woman director who is unafraid to use all of the nuances that come with being a woman.

I also learned very quickly that she has two great parents and I see “Daddy’s Girl” written all over her face. Oprah Winfrey is another Daddy’s Girl. I know one when I see one—I was a Daddy’s Girl too. I love my late Mama to death because we had a lot of fun, but Dad was my playmate for life. I thought about my parents when I watched SELMA in the dark of that packed movie theatre on Christmas Day. They would have been so proud; and my tell-it-like-it-is Father would have been one of Ava’s biggest supporters. I can hear his loud mouth right now talking about how “Ava is one baaaaaad young sister!!”

For the first time we have a feature film about Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Selma March movement, but also a film where women are highly visible, as are so many other long forgotten foot soldiers. Yet, for a filmmaker to press ahead and make the kind of film that truly honors the Black and White women who made so many sacrifices for civil and human rights takes courage.  For a Black woman filmmaker that courage often comes from the fact that in a male-dominated world, when a father approves of his daughter, when he encourages her and believes in her, she never, ever needs another man’s approval.

Mothers are extremely important too, and are always our confidantes and advisors; it is she who helps us navigate in a world full of possibilities and limitations. We watch our mothers make sacrifices and often we later wonder how she managed to make those sacrifices. Yet, our Dads’ support truly matters because sexism is alive and well, no matter how many men that love us try to downplay it. I am a Black woman and because my Dad supported me, I can handle blatant sexism and the occasional lukewarm support I get from some of the men I know and love. Most women know that only a minority of men can be our cheerleaders. Cheerleaders have to perform on the sidelines.

Ava and Oprah know whom their male and female cheerleaders are; an overwhelming majority of those cheerleaders has a pair of ovaries. I have several male cheerleaders, but every once in a while I hear that disinterest in their voices when the subject of the conversation changes from their problems or their work to a discussion about me and what is going on in my life and work.  They do not mean me any harm.   Yet, when I need to discuss me, I turn to my sister friends. So, in the spirit of that Sisterhood I am going on record as saying I am so very proud of Oprah Winfrey, who never fails to honor all of her people.  I am so very proud of Black woman filmmaker and director Ava DuVernay for the exact same reason!  My late parents loved Oprah…they did not live long enough to witness Ava…but I suspect they are watching from somewhere in the cosmos! Àṣé!

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

One Helluva Conversation with My Students Today…

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013.  All Rights Reserved.  Self-Portrait.

Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved. Self-Portrait.

Today I spoke with my history students…I reminded them of some advice that both of my parents gave to me.

Mom and Dad said that I must never speak for any person or any group of people that I did not know personally or at least have some first hand knowledge about.

I reminded these students that no matter what they saw on the news, or who they liked on the news, that a good portion of who or what was reported was tainted, including the news that comes from the Left and the Right…

And don’t start whining because you know I am on the Left or leaning Left…because several of my journalist friends on both sides of the political aisle have reminded me that in these last days of 2014 that journalists and news rooms have forgotten their duties and started twisting and altering stories just to…

stir up more trouble and unrest so that they could have something to talk about or write about…because you know if it bleeds, it leads

So, I reminded my students that the only promise I have actually kept to my parents was that I would never try to pass myself off as representative, or a spokesperson for anyone or anything I did not know well…

So, again, I put on my sneakers and walked miles through my neighborhood with my iron pipe to ward off crazy stray dogs (and fools, if necessary)…and I talked to old folk on their front porches, and…

Watched children play and ride their bikes in the street, and reminded myself that no one on CNN or MSNBC or any other network has bothered to visit some of these neighborhoods which is why…

I will avoid the shrill and unnecessary and unproductive conversations and debates of those on the so-called Left and the so-called Right who do nothing but spout their, “I’m-right-and-you’re-wrong” diatribes until I see all or any of them put their sneakers on…

and stroll through the neighborhoods and speak to the people they allegedly claim to speak for…and that admonition goes for our local elected officials and our clergy too…

My students are fired up and that was/is enough for me.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Common Sense

by Leslye Joy Allen Weary Self-Portrait 2 by Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

I am a Black woman, born and raised

in the American South, but I have

often had to yell or give long lectures

about my circumstances and my

problems and about what has happened to me

or other folk like me

and yelling and lecturing is a bore and a waste of my time, in spite

of the fact that I have met many of my Black folk that I love

and many White folk that I love and who love me,

but I have never seen any mass movement of White folk who

marched in the streets to say that they loved or supported Black women and

I have never seen any mass movement of Black people

who marched in the streets to say that they loved or supported Black women, so

I figured that in spite of that loving handful of

men and women who do or did love me, that

remain in my life or my memory, that I better

depend on myself because Common Sense demands that since I

am a Black American woman I better not make too many assumptions

about who I can count on

besides myself.

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

A Schoolteacher’s Story

by Leslye Joy AllenGE DIGITAL CAMERA

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I have been blessed.  My late Dad was a full-time, hands-on Dad that believed that females had the right to do whatever their skills, talent, and intellect allowed them to do. I do not remember ever being told by my father that I should not do or try something because I was “a girl.”  And it was Daddy who introduced me to great Jazz and Popular song.  Manhood for me was defined by him as a love of Billy Eckstine, Nat “King” Cole, and Johnny Mathis (my favorite), but that is a story for another blog.  I should add that in addition to his trying to be genteel or dapper as his musical heroes were, Daddy was also quick to intervene in situations when he thought a woman was in physical trouble.  I thought of him and my Mama after a recent encounter with one of my Mama’s oldest and dearest friends.

I recently ran into one of my late Mama’s former co-workers and good friends. Like my late Mama, she was also an elementary school teacher. This particular schoolteacher remains one of my favorite people on the planet.  She and I hit it off when I was about three-years-old, when I literally wandered in this woman’s classroom, a classroom adjacent to my Mama’s classroom via their shared cloakroom.  She was also was one of the people who wrote one of my recommendation letters to college.  Now in her eighties, she is still so much fun and packs a lot of spirit in one tiny mocha-colored frame.

This same schoolteacher told me that she had once been a battered wife.  I never met or knew her first husband.  I only knew her second husband that she married much later in life.  He was a tall, handsome man with golden-colored skin and wavy-curly white hair.  He was also funny and quite gentle, and thankfully nothing like her first husband.  She and husband number two had a good time together for over thirty years before he passed away.  Yet, she still remembered her tragic first marriage.

After more than a few beatings from her first husband, she told me she left him when their children were quite small and filed for divorce.  One day, however, her soon-to-be ex-husband showed up unannounced at her new home waving a gun at her, angry that she had left him.

“Out of the corner of my eye,” she said, “I saw our five-year-old son walking toward us.  All I could think about was what if this fool pulls the trigger or what if the gun goes off and kills my child.”

Therefore, this schoolteacher—who is barely five feet tall and who has never weighed more than a 115 pounds—wrestled with her six-foot-tall first husband for that gun.

“I was terrified that my child would get killed,” she said.  “I finally got my hands on the handle of the gun, the barrel aimed at his chest; and I pulled the trigger and it only clicked. He brought an UNLOADED gun to scare me, but I ended up scaring him and I scared myself.”

“He was shaking like a leaf and he said, ‘You really would’ve killed me, wouldn’t you?!’ I looked down and saw that he had urinated in his pants because I pulled that trigger.  It still bothers me that I pulled that trigger, but my child, all I could think of was my child.  He left and never came back.”

For most of us, we remember at least one female schoolteacher that we liked or even loved.  While I have plenty of male teachers to thank, like most of us, our female teachers were typically the majority when we were in grade school.  There was always one teacher who sparked our desire to learn or who did something or said something that we fondly remember or that changed our lives for the better.  At least I hope we all have that memory.

Now, I have nothing profound to say about domestic abuse or gun violence.  I only ask that you remember your favorite female schoolteacher and try imagining her being beaten or having to face the same ugly scenario as my Mom’s friend faced over fifty years ago.

Coda: A couple of years ago the United Nations Secretary General initiated a campaign to end violence against women.  U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon named it Orange Day” and designated the 25th day of each month as Orange Day in recognition of the ongoing fight to end violence against women.

The irony for me is that my mother, who was darker complexioned than I, had beautiful copper undertones in her skin and wore the color Orange better than anybody I know.  And while my Dad never abused my mom or any woman, one of the last things my Mama told me before she passed on to the ancestors was that before she ever knew or married my Dad, was that she had an early boyfriend who did not hesitate to give her a black eye!  So this blog is as much for her as it is for her good friend, and men like Dad.

You can read more about the United Nations “Orange Day” campaign here: http://endviolence.un.org/orangeday.shtml

Learn more about the law and the abuse of women at:

Can a United States Federal Judge Keep His Job is He is Criminally Charged with Domestic Abuse?  YES!    

FREE MARISSA NOW.COM which covers information and updates about the Florida woman facing 60 years in prison for firing a warning shot at an abusive husband.

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.