Review: “Black. Their Story, Our History”
By Jamie Washington, Reporter
“Black. Their Story, Our History” was, in the words of the show’s pamphlet, “an artistic showcase of what the word Black [meant to the performers].” It fulfilled this description and more, with the entire night being a dynamic example of students lending their voices and talents to what is often seen as a controversial topic to discuss.
The audience was literally moved into the Sunday evening of art with a performance by the “Hornets. On. Deck” step team. In the first song of their routine, which was a mashup of Beyoncé’s songs “Forward” and “Freedom,” two members of the team effortlessly flowed with one another in their movements. The rest of the team soon joined in, marching in from the wings and lobby to the beat of the song. As the group marched in there were murmurs of awe from the audience, which continued as the group began an acapella step routine of their own design. Their part of the night concluded with a routine set to Kid the Wiz’s “Love Come Down,” which was full of laughter from the group. Some of the audience members even joined in chanting along to the song, adding immensely to the sense of joy and celebration which permeated the room.
Following the step routine, Victor Herrera, a freshman English major, read a poem by Maya Angelou entitled “Still We Rise,” which Angelou herself originally read at the Million Man March in 1995. The poem tells about how, despite the struggles which black people face, they will always continue to rise above it. The words of the poem effortlessly echoed around the chapel, and Herrera himself gently swayed with each line. His movement only stopped when he said his final, powerful line, “And still we rise.”
The next person to take the mic was DJ Gayles, a senior acting major, in order to fill the gap between Herrera’s poetry reading and the setup for the next act. During this small break, Gayles said that he tried to think of one word that described what it meant to him to be black. The word he chose was, “everything.” He went on to say, “When I think about [history], black people were involved in every single piece of that.”
The next performance of the night was freshman vocal performance major Jonathon Edwards performing a cover of Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair” with a live band backing him. His voice soared alongside the cheers of the audience with every powerful note he hit, and the audience was enthralled with hearing a male voice sing the words of a song originally sung by a woman. Hearing a male voice sing the song gave it a different perspective and, in its own way, helped the audience know that it is not only black women who struggle with people always wanting to touch their hair.
Gayles once again momentarily took hold of the stage to bridge the gap between acts, starting out with saying, “There is no such thing as progression without partnership.” This was said in reference to how he believes race relations cannot be improved unless races come together to help one another.
Gayles’ moment of thought led directly into an original piece by Alex Carney, a senior Religion and Gender & Women’s Studies major, entitled “Why I Believe #BlackLivesMatter.” Alex’s piece stood out from the rest not only because of its powerful statements, but also because, unlike the rest of the night’s speakers, Alex was white, and therefore not a member of a minority. The piece was a powerful testament to the power of white people speaking up for their friends and loved ones of other races when the voices of the latter are silenced due to racist beliefs.
The next performance of the night was Ashlee Parks singing “Hero” by Mariah Carey, with Christian Patterson, a sophomore music therapy major, accompanying her on guitar. Ashlee’s voice conquered and carried through even the most difficult of the notes in her song, and helped add to the atmosphere of pride and passion which filled the room.
The next performance of the night was “The Colored Museum,” a play by George C. Wolfe which consisted of 11 “exhibits” that explored and discussed various aspects of black culture. The play, while the highlight of the night for many, also caused some audience members to leave partway through. This was unsurprising though, because, in her introduction of the show, the show’s director Jordan McCaskill said, “A lot of topics will hit home.”
Nearly every “exhibit” of the show was filled with dark humor. The air seemed to thicken at points when only one or two audience members would laugh at something, and in these moments, it seemed that the rest of the audience began to analyze whether the laughter was appropriate or not. The part of the play which the audience seemed to universally enjoy was that of the final “exhibit” about a woman named Topsy Washington, who, after detailing all of the black historical figures who live inside of her head and inspired her thoughts, said, “I am dancing to the music of the madness in me.” Her final line, “My power is in my madness and my colorful contradictions,” elicited a standing ovation from the audience.
“The Colored Museum” was one of the most prominent parts of the entire night, and each “exhibit” had a powerful lesson and theme behind it that anyone and everyone could benefit from at least being aware of. The entire show, with the help of the actors, made wonderful use of the power of humor to confront societal issues.
However, the night was not yet done, and Victor Herrera once again took the stage to read a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Though the night was getting late, and his chosen quote was short, Victor’s powerful voice did not falter in its delivery. Additionally, the meaning behind the quote kept the night rolling at full speed.
The next part of the evening was an original piece with background music written and performed by Tenay Graham entitled “What is Left,” with the background music being provided by sophomore Music Technology & Production major Kitt Flamer-Caldera on piano. The piece was delivered in a style reminiscent of spoken word poetry, and discussed women and relationships. While the piece would have easily been just as passionate with the music behind it, the piano boosted it wonderfully.
The final performance of the night was senior Vocal Performance/Pedagogy major Javon Charles singing “Will There Really Be a Morning” by Ricky Ian Gordon, with junior Piano Performance major Richard Jeric accompanying her on piano. Charles’ extended, operatic notes resonated throughout the space and the audience themselves, and her performance brought a relaxed, yet still clearly passionate, end to the event.
Overall, “Black. Their Story, Our History” was a night full of pride for and celebration of black culture. Every performer brought their own unique talents to the show, and helped to form a broad story of what the word “black” meant to them. Even though some of the content made certain audience members uncomfortable, the entire event was still an important exploration of what is often seen as a taboo topic and sensitive issue. Everyone who attended truly benefitted from doing so, and would benefit from seeing it again, given the chance.