Emo­tions run high at Beth Mar­shall Presents’ #black­lives­mat­ter protest

Orlando Sentinel - - People & Arts - By Matthew J. Palm

They spoke of his­tory. They spoke of tragedy.

They sang of hope. They sang of strength.

They called for jus­tice. They called for change.

For three hours Thurs­day night, Beth Mar­shall Presents hosted a “Black Lives Mat­ter Vir­tual COVID Con­scious Arts Protest” over so­cial me­dia. Sched­uled af­ter the 8 p.m. down­town Or­lando cur­few dis­persed pro­test­ers from the streets, the on­line event gave par­tic­i­pants a chance to hear per­sonal sto­ries and share their emo­tional re­ac­tions to the death of Ge­orge Floyd and the re­sult­ing demon­stra­tions.

Peo­ple around the na­tion have been stag­ing pub­lic protests since Floyd, a black Min­nesota man, was killed by a white po­lice of­fi­cer on May 25. Floyd died af­ter the of­fi­cer, who has since been charged with mur­der and man­slaugh­ter, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for al­most nine min­utes — an act cap­tured on video.

A cur­rent of anger ran through Thurs­day’s event, which Mar­shall recorded and planned to make avail­able for later view­ing at Face­book.com/BethMar­shal­lPre­sents or YouTube.

“First they hung us from trees, now we’re dy­ing un­der their knees,” read Roy Wil­liams Jr., per­form­ing a poem by Paris Cray­ton III, fa­mil­iar to Or­lando au­di­ences from his award-win­ning Or­lando Fringe show “Spare the Rod,” as well as “Hood­ies.”

Cray­ton read from “I Can’t Breathe,” a work written in re­sponse to Floyd’s death: “We live in a world with the ‘white is right’ sys­tem.”

Den­nis Neal, a long­time Or­lando ac­tor, had pointed words for white peo­ple:

“This is your (ex­ple­tive) prob­lem. Fix it.”

Like many oth­ers who shared sto­ries, he told of a fear al­ways loom­ing in the back­ground of their lives.

“Ev­ery day I walk out my door, I’m on guard,” he said in a speech that grew in in­ten­sity as he ad­dressed the racism en­coun­tered in daily life.

Ac­tor Val Gam­ble said her fear is for her son’s safety.

“They tell us slav­ery was a long time ago, get over it,” she said, her voice cracking. “But how can we for­get when you keep killing us?”

Many speak­ers ad­dressed the ques­tion of why peo­ple are speak­ing out now.

Some said the coro­n­avirus shut­down had a part to play: Peo­ple were home to watch the news, and had time to re­spond.

But many also pointed out the erup­tion of frus­tra­tion, anger and sad­ness was a long time com­ing.

“There’s a lot of black peo­ple in this coun­try who are tired,” said ac­tor Stel­son Telfort. “I am one of them.”

“Amer­ica was built on racism,” said com­mu­nity leader Barry White. He spoke against the loot­ing and van­dal­ism that has ac­com­pa­nied the protests in some ar­eas — “I don’t con­done it,” he said, call­ing the vi­o­lence “the wrong way.”

Yet he said it wasn’t sur­pris­ing that anger would boil over af­ter decades of see­ing pleas for jus­tice fall on deaf ears.

“Some­times when you’re hol­ler­ing at some­one and they don’t hear you, you gotta hit ‘em up­side the head so they feel you,” he said.

Kerry Alce sang Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Go­ing On” in­spired by a po­lice-bru­tal­ity in­ci­dent in the 1970s. Tymisha Har­ris per­formed “The Times They Are aChangin’,” by Bob Dy­lan, an­other so­cial cru­sader.

Among Thurs­day’s fiery anger were em­bers of hope — a feel­ing that even small changes could lead to big­ger ones.

“Start here,” par­tic­i­pants read at the evening’s end. “Give space, re­flect, ed­u­cate. We need to do it to­gether.”

Mar­shall said “nu­anced, un­com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tions” could make a dif­fer­ence. “Real change hap­pens on in­ti­mate lev­els,” she said.

“We gotta do some­thing,” Gam­ble said at the end of her speech. “There’s no go­ing back now.”

Find me on Twit­ter @mat­t_on_arts or email me at mpalm@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com. Want more news of theater and other arts? Go to Or­lan­doSen­tinel.com/arts.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.