Sayonara 2015…Changes in 2016

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

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

I lost a lot and gained a lot in the year 2015. When this happens you reassess what makes sense in your life, and what you need to let go of. So, with that said…

I lost my dissertation advisor Dr. Clifford M. Kuhn, who died of a massive heart attack in November 2015. Yet, I learned that I had the support of the wonderful faculty of the History Department at Georgia State University; and I thank them all. I had to agree to stop teaching for at least a couple of semesters in order to fulfill the requirements of a dissertation fellowship, but that is okay—I won that dissertation fellowship.

I had the love and support of supremely talented actor Margo Moorer—one of many members of my extensive theatre family—who ensured that I witnessed the phenomenal stage play “Uprising.” Margo and that cast were superb in this great play and she generously pressed some money in my hand when I was dead broke.  I should also acknowledge that Margo was one of the first members of Atlanta’s theatre community to show up when my Mama passed in 2013.  Her fellow actor and co-star LaParee Young said it best, “Margo will be there for you.”  LaParee was damn right.  THANK YOU MARGO!  She also insisted that I meet the author of “Uprising” Gabrielle Fulton, who is a brilliant playwright whose literary and artistic maturity are far beyond her years.

As an only child, I naturally have “adopted” brothers and sisters. I could not let this year go by without thanking my long-time “adopted” brother (and fellow only child) Marc Freeman for covering me, praying for me, and for letting me hear some amazing music that no one else has heard.  He is an amazing composer and producer. We have been friends for fifty years and counting.  I must thank Wafa who is my “sister from another mother,” and who has covered my behind more times than I can count.  I also have to thank my cousins Saundi, Yolanda (Yandi), Lorena, and Cynthia for reminding me that I am loved and for showing up to make sure that I knew it.  My cousin Saundi lost her Mom (my Aunt Sara) this year, but I have one of her angel ornaments to remind me of her.  I thank Claude and Don, my “adopted” brothers and favorite couple for always making me laugh and for reminding me that only children often inherit loving siblings late in life.  

I thank Dr. Karcheik Sims-Alvarado—the Historian in Heels—for “talking me back from the ledge” so to speak, as she understood/understands the stress and frustration that comes with being a doctoral candidate; and I must give a special shout to the GSU History Department’s Business Manager Paula Sorrell for getting all that paperwork handled so that I could get paid on time; and I also must thank Paula for always remaining cool when she is dealing with crazy Ph.D. candidates like myself.

I thank all of my former students who are too numerous to mention by name. They remind me that the future is in good hands. I also thank the young men and women who have chosen me as their mentor.  It is an honor to be chosen by such wonderful young people from everywhere around the United States, and from as far away as Nigeria, Ghana, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Antigua, and Québec.  All of my students, protégés and protégées will change the world.  

This year I participated as a historical consultant in the directorial debut of Keith Arthur Bolden, a brilliant actor and artistic director of the phenomenal Spriggs Burroughs Ensemble of Spelman College. I thank Keith for inviting me along on his very special journey. Okay, I give up!  Margo, Keith and several other performance artists have called me a dramaturge, and I am finally accepting the label.

I must give super props to my adopted “Baby Sister,” the phenomenally talented actor Nevaina Rhodes (pronounced “Nih-Von-Yah”), who is also a drama coach and founder of Real Actors Workshop (RAW).  She also remains the only person I can honestly call a bona fide prayer warrior. Her midday prayers at 12:00 Noon every weekday are a revelation. I know of no one who prays with as much intensity or belief or talent…and she and I have also laughed at some supreme silliness—that is always a blessing!

I met and befriended talented young Black male doctoral scholars like Jerquil “JC” Campbell and Malcom Devoe (his Malcom does not have that second “L”), and talented young doctoral scholars like Jessica Ramadhin, Cinnamon Mittan, and Corrianne Bazemore-James. Cori was my roommate during “The Compact for Faculty Diversity: Institute on Teaching and Mentoring Conference” for SREB Doctoral Scholars held in Washington, DC.  Meeting these young dedicated scholars of color is/was always a blessing and inspiration…

I recognize and embrace the fact that I am a fierce and brilliant intellectual who owes so much to so many scholars and artists who invested their time and energy in my intellect and abilities. I am also the daughter of two now-deceased parents who knew that my purpose and destination would exceed the limits of their lifetimes. Therefore, some changes for 2016 are in order so that I might fulfill my ancestral legacy and complete my sacred God-ordained mission.

I am saying, “Sayonara,” “Adios,” “O da abọ,” “Kwaheri,” “Au Revoir” and “Goodbye” to that small group of men who narrowly envision me (and women in general) as someone designated to sit and listen to their plans, their projects, and their problems. If any of these men are reading this and need some kind of advice, I suggest that they call a counselor or their Mamas, but they need not call me. Too many of these same men who dialed my phone for all kinds of help and assistance have also routinely compensated other men for doing what they expected me to do free of charge…Therefore…

I will no longer vet projects and/or consult and/or render my academic expertise without some form of compensation. The wonderful people that I have individually thanked above in this blog deserve me as one who operates at full capacity for myself and for them.  Mess over or mistreat or mishandle any one of these phenomenal people and I will take it as a personal insult.  I have only one thing, however, to say to those men who think I am some kind of built-in, automatic, academic workhorse meant for their personal use: Delete my phone number until you recognize my value and until you can pay me what I am worth; and we need not speak unless I consider my association with you to be a plus rather than a liability. And please understand that all of the people I care about know who you are, so do not bother calling them either!

To all those friends and colleagues who have encouraged me in some way this year:  You are too numerous to name in a single blog, and I am sure I have forgotten someone, but charge it to my head and not my heart.  Please know that I appreciate every one of you.  Happy New Year!  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.

 

 

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18 Days Earlier We Marched and then We Lost…

A staged reading of the play "Four Little Girls" streaming live online from the Kennedy Center on September 15, 2013 at 6:00 PM EST.

A staged reading of the play “Four Little Girls” streaming live online from the Kennedy Center on September 15, 2013 at 6:00 PM EST.

…FOUR LITTLE GIRLS

By Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, and Doctoral Student

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

There were four little Black girls whose lives were snuffed out on Sunday morning, September 15, 1963 when a bomb planted by racist White terrorists exploded in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.  They were, Denise McNair who was the youngest at age 11, Carol Robertson aged 14, Cynthia Wesley** aged 14 (**Real and Birth name is “CYNTHIA MORRIS”), and Addie Mae Collins was aged 14.  When that bomb went off, most Black Birmingham citizens and most Black Americans forgot about the “March on Washington,” held a mere eighteen days earlier on August 28.  Not long after the blast, all hell broke loose.  The New York Times headline on the following day read (click here for article): “Birmingham Bomb Kills 4 Negro Girls in Church; Riots Flare; 2 Boys Slain.

Birmingham, then nicknamed “Bombingham,” had an ugly history it would take decades to live down.  A middle class neighborhood in the city had suffered so many bombings that it was nicknamed “Dynamite Hill,” because angry Whites bombed homes to stop Black people from moving into the area.  Dynamite Hill was the neighborhood that honed and developed future Phi Beta Kappa scholar, radical activist, and author Angela Davis.  Yet, that is a story for another essay.  There are those of us, however, who think the story of what and who we lost on that fateful Sunday morning deserves its place in all the national narratives of American history.  I am one of those people; so is actor and activist Erich McMillan-McCall.

My friend, Erich is the founder of Project1Voice, an organization devoted to preserving Black theatre companies and our important historical legacies.  I should add that not only is he a multitalented performance artist with credits on Broadway, national stages, and television, he is also a visionary.  I say he is a visionary, however, with a very important acknowledgement of the type of communities that both of us grew up in as children.  Black women, he emphasizes, were at the center of these communities.  Yet, in several of our usual marathon-long telephone conversations, he has lamented that he is bothered by how Black women’s voices are not only muted or unacknowledged in the historical narratives, but also on the stage, and in the arts.

Erich and I are products of a time when to be young and Black and living in the American South did not necessarily mean that everywhere you went there was danger; what it tended to mean was the Black community in which you grew up was supportive, filled with a great deal of love and encouragement.  There were threats to our wellbeing, to be sure.  Yet, those threats largely came from outside the neighborhoods where we lived.  As much as some very sympathetic White liberal folks and some younger Black Americans have erroneously assumed otherwise, our Black parents and elders made sure we had normal childhoods with school, church, piano lessons, baseball games, concerts, plays, parties, and family picnics.  They did all of this for us in spite of the racism and the perpetual threat of (and often real) racial violence that characterized much of life for us during the 1960s and 1970s.  Erich understands this type of upbringing.

His proactive approach, that provides greater visibility to financially struggling Black theatre companies while engaging educational, civic, and political organizations in this collective struggle for artistic, political, educational, economic, and historical viability is not exactly a new way of doing things.  The Black community that I grew up in was filled with folks who could sing, dance, act, organize, who taught school, practiced medicine, ran businesses, and helped elect Black people to political office—This is what we were/are.  I loved this Black community, and the activism and the theatre it produced.  I still live in the neighborhood my family moved to when I was around the age of eleven.  It has not entirely lost those same qualities that it had during my childhood.  However, I fear that these types of communities become more rare with each passing decade.  At the same time, I am gratified and encouraged by Erich’s embrace of the old collaborative efforts of our neighborhoods and organizations that we remember about our childhoods; and his insistence that those qualities can be modified and used to great affect in the information age.  I hope this is the beginning of a new trend.

Sunday, September 15, 2013, is the 50th anniversary of one of our worst tragedies.  On this date, Project1Voice, in collaboration with Howard University, African Continuum Theatre Company, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will present a reading of the play “Four Little Girls,” written by Christina Ham, directed by Phylicia Rashad.  It will stream live online at 6:00 PM EST via the Kennedy Center’s website.

Targeted toward young audiences, this will be one of those wonderful opportunities to sit down in front of your computer screens with your children and your friends to watch this important piece of theatre and history—Free of Charge.  You should also check for viewing parties around the country.  Additionally, over thirty Black theatre companies around this nation will be presenting “Four Little Girls” simultaneously on the fiftieth anniversary of this national tragedy.

Erich and I both remember neighborhoods where middle class and working class Black families looked out for each other and each other’s children.  These facts, however, are precisely why the slaughter of Denise McNair, Carol Robertson, Cynthia Wesley** (**born as “Cynthia Morris,” but cited in the historiography and in most news reports as “Cynthia Wesley“) and Addie Mae Collins was so devastating to Birmingham’s Black community and other Black communities throughout the nation.  The reading of this play is not only a way to honor these dead children, but to also recall and remember the kind of stable and warm neighborhoods where all of them and us grew up.  Let us honor these little girls by going home again.  Peace.

Please visit: Project1Voice and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for more information about this play; how to access the play via the internet on Sept. 15, 2013 at 6 PM EST; and for information about other great performances and programs.

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.

** Shortly after this blog was published, I, Leslye Joy Allen, was contacted by Fate Morris, the brother of the young girl commonly known in historical and news records as “Cynthia Wesley.”  Fate Morris insisted that his sister’s real name is “CYNTHIA DIANE MORRIS,” and that authorities recorded her name incorrectly the day of the explosion.  Mr. Morris also informed me that he has decided to accept the Congressional Medal for his sister.  Originally he and Sarah Collins Rudolph (sister of Addie Mae Collins) had declined this medal.  Please read the following article about the survivors of this tragedy: “Survivor of ’63 Bombing Seeks Funds”** 

Please join Project1Voice‘s commemoration of the lives of these four little girls: