Martin Luther King Jr. Day is Monday. “Selma,” the acclaimed feature film of King’s historic 1965 protest marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., is playing in area theaters. And the controversial deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y., have dominated the news. Race relations in the United States are front and center in the national dialogue.
The Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe is adding its perspective on this national discussion of race relations by holding its first “WBTT Voices” program of 2015 in honor of February’s Black History Month. Initiated last year, the “Voices” speaker series focuses on entertainers and other public figures and leaders involved in the Civil Rights Movement. This year’s first program, titled “A Vision of Equality,” is free and takes place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 5, at the WBTT Theater. The discussion will focus on the work of W.E.B. Du Bois, co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and prominent civil rights and equality advocate during the first half of the 20th century.
“Black History Month provides the perfect platform to dig more deeply into the people and issues that have shaped the African-American experience in our country,” says Richard M. Parison Jr., executive director of WBTT, in a press statement. “While the ‘Voices’ program enables us to have meaningful discussions about issues specifically related to African-American culture and history, these discussions also touch on universal topics that speak to all people.”
The panel discussing De Bois’ platforms and legacy include Vivian R. Johnson, best-selling author and retired educator; Neil P. Phillips, principal of Visible Men Academy, an all-boys African-American school in Manatee County; Charles Smith, playwright and professor of theater and playwriting at Ohio University; and Dr. Bernard Watson, academic vice president of Temple University and president of the William Penn Foundation.
Moderated by Vickie Oldham, reporter with WWSB ABC News 7 and current assistant vice president of institutional advancement of Albany State University, the panel will discuss Du Bois’ “The Talented Tenth” philosophy, which stipulated that the top 10% of African-Americans be ushered into higher education, thus creating an educated and influential aristocracy that could enact social change and equality.
This open panel and discussion ties into the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s current production of “Knock Me a Kiss.” Written by Smith, the play depicts the life and family history of Du Bois through the lens of a fictional marriage of one of Du Bois’ daughters to a talented poet during the Harlem Renaissance. The show runs until Feb. 8.