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.

A Personal Bibliography (After “Four Little Girls”)

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Books II” by Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013.  All Rights Reserved.

“Books II” by Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved.

When Erich McMillan-McCall, founder of Project1Voice said, “We need a bibliography,” I knew I was about to be called upon to begin pulling together books that focused on the lives and accomplishments of Black women.  I almost declined because there really is no shortage of books written by or about or which target Black women and girls as a reading audience.  The real task was not finding books, but rather which ones should be on the list.   Erich (pronounced “Eh-rish”) asked me to do this as part of his overall focus on Black women, but also in some ways as a response to the reading of the Christina Ham play “Four Little Girls” that streamed live online at the Kennedy-Center’s website at 6:00 PM EST on Sunday, September 15, 2013.

Although Diane McWhorter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Carry Me Home gives a detailed account of that fateful Sunday morning when Cynthia, Addie Mae, Carole, and Denise were killed, there is no book written exclusively about these four little girls who died in that church bombing on September 15, 1963.  Indeed, it can be debated that the White racist terrorists that bombed Birmingham, Alabama’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that ended the lives of these girls did not specifically set out to kill young Black females.  Often the targets of racial violence were and tend to be Black males, or at least many folks think the targets are always Black males.  After all, two Black boys, 16-year-old Johnny Robinson and 13-year-old Virgil Ware were shot and killed the same day in the immediate aftermath of the church bombing.  Yet, Black women and girls were not only routine victims of sexual violence, but were often beaten or killed with impunity during slavery, the era of Jim Crow, and well into and beyond the Civil Rights era.  Black female martyrdom and valor in the struggle for human and civil rights is often muted in favor of other types of narratives.  A perfect example of this is how most people view Rosa Parks.

Too often the public (and a few historians) mistakes Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a White person in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 as just an example of what happens when a Black woman simply gets tired of racial injustice.  But it was much, much more than that.  Historian Danielle L. McGuire aptly noted that Parks had a long career of dangerous work as an NAACP investigator in the decades before her fateful act in 1955.  McGuire also reported that the very first question Rosa Parks’ mother asked her after Parks was released from jail for her now-famous refusal to give up her seat to a white bus passenger was: “Did they beat you?”  That kind of question was, at one time, almost as typical for Black women as the sun coming up.

One way to dispel myths and increase our understanding of our lives and the world we live in is to read and do our own research.  One way to honor those four little girls tragically killed on that fateful Sunday in 1963 (and all of our Black heroines) is to examine and celebrate our resilient and diverse and often brilliant Black womanhood, a womanhood denied to them.  So here goes…

The books contained in the .pdf attachment at the end of this blog were my favorites and the first books that came to mind, along with a few marvelous book suggestions about Black female musicians courtesy of my good friend and alumna sister from Agnes Scott College, ethnomusicologist Dr. Birgitta Johnson.

Some books are old and some relatively new.   There are no separate sections where fiction is separated from nonfiction.  The only separate section in this bibliography is a section of books devoted exclusively to and for Black girls from preschool to middle school.  A few parents might find this useful.   I am also happy to report that books for and about Black girls is a growing industry.

My book list is not comprehensive.  For some of you who read all the time, you might find some glaring omissions.  I make no apologies.  I never choose a book simply because it was or is popular, and neither should you.   I also have not been fond of everything on the bestseller list now or in the past.  This list is MY LIST and it is hardly an exhaustive list of all the books I have read about Black women and/or any other subject.  Yet it is a beginning.  For those of you who read occasionally, you might find this list particularly useful so that you can begin that journey where you read and discover new things, new ideas, and new writers.

Now, for those of you who might be tempted to send me some remark about how I left out what you consider to be the “best book ever,” do not despair and save your energy.  The attached bibliography has an important page with a header that reads: “Add Your Favorite Books Here.”  THIS IS YOUR PAGE.  This is where I hope you will begin to write down the authors and titles of those books that have mattered the most to you.  I hope you will create your own bibliography, because if you do, we can begin to shape a real dialogue that is truly about ALL OF US.   I invite you to start one part of your/our journey by clicking here: **By, About, and For Black Women, a Personal Bibliography by Leslye Joy Allen.pdf**

Portable Document Files (.pdf ) have to be opened with an Adobe Reader.  If you have a problem opening the file above, please visit http://www.adobe.com, click on the section near the top of the page that is marked “Download,” then highlight and click “Adobe Reader” and download the Adobe Reader free of charge.

Also be sure to visit the Gist of Freedom, free podcasts devoted to preserving our rich African American History at: http://www.blackhistoryuniversity.com

Leslye Joy Allen is also a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License 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 stated as the author.