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.

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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.

Saying Goodbye to Gayleatha

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate, Doctoral Student

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

I learned late on Monday, 17 June 2013 that one of my Aunt Minnie Belle Veal’s protégées passed this April 2013.  She was Ambassador Gayleatha Beatrice Brown (June 20, 1947 to April 19, 2013).

A Howard University alumna, “Gay,” as I called her, was the first person I knew that worked for Randall Robinson’s TransAfrica, the first person who wore braids before they became popular. In her usual “I-will-not-have-any-of-it” style, my “Aunt Beh Beh” (Minnie Belle Veal) drove from Edison, New Jersey, all the way to Gay’s graduate school, the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, after someone there mildly suggested that Gay, a Black girl from a working class family in New Jersey, should not seriously consider a career in Foreign Service.  And then—with the hell-and-be-damned-with-you that is the best of Black America—she became a diplomat and later an ambassador.

I remember her as someone who loved my Aunt Minnie Belle more than life.  The book she gave Auntie in 1969 was The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass.  I ended up reading the copy of the book she left for my Aunt.  I remember Gay as someone who liked her eggs scrambled hard, like me.  I fixed them several times for her and myself on one of the extended visits to Atlanta that she took with my Aunt Beh Beh.  The last time I saw her both of my parents were still alive, but my Aunt Minnie Belle had just passed and Gay had arrived for her funeral.  Now, all of them are gone. 

In the usual routine of graduate students and, I guess, members of the foreign service, Gay and I lost contact with each other due to moving around.  She quickly went from being a U. S.  Diplomat in France to her later years when she served as Ambassador to two countries on the continent of Africa, Burkina Faso and then later Benin.

I received an email earlier in the day from a former female student of mine.  This student was about to embark on studies that are not so traditional for women in general, to say nothing of Black women.  Later in the evening I decided to look up Gayleatha on the Internet.  I had found her before and quickly forwarded the hyperlinks.  This time I found her again, but what came up first was her obituary and the Funeral Service for Gayleatha Brown, which I did not expect.  I thought about my Dad, who has been gone now for twenty-six years, who was as proud of Gayleatha as he was of his sister Minnie Belle.  As my head raced, my first impulse, in the wee hours of the morning, was to call Mama to tell her that Gayleatha was dead.  It dawned on me, as I reached for the phone, that Mama was also gone.

With the exception of a few cousins on my Dad’s side of the family, most of the people that I knew whom Gay’s passing would upset, have already passed on themselves.  I would tell you how I am holding my chin up, trusting in God and all of the usual stuff that people say at a time like this.  However, I have had about as much death as I care to take in one year.

I lost Mama, a beloved cousin; and while I have two loving families, I had a couple of family members who decided that I made a good emotional punching bag since they could not vent their dissatisfaction with themselves on anyone else.  Additionally, someone who I thought was a friend proved to be anything but one.

Now, I know that I have not earned this and that I have no control over any of this.  And in spite of how truly bad I feel, late Monday into the wee hours of Tuesday morning were not completely awful.  After all, I heard from a former student who is planning to study and do great things; and I made a quick acquaintance of a Vassar College Professor who likes my blog and who does his own bit of social commentary.  I just wish that the day had ended on a better note.  Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that I learned of her passing, I remain grateful to have known Gay.

So, all I ask is that you pray for the family of the late Ambassador Gayleatha Beatrice Brown.  Pray for my students and for all young people who desperately need her example to do the kind of work we all need them to do.  As for me, I am, right now, not much in the mood for anything.   And I make no apologies.  That is just the way it is, for now.

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

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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.