The African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” means that a child grows up within a home, with a community giving input and understanding.
As I watched the recently presented play, “Kumbayah — the Juneteenth Story” by Rose McGee, I thought about this proverb.
I thought of the people who ensured that many children would see a play such as this. The target audience was Omaha Public Schools’ students, staff, family and community.
It was directed by Denise Chapman and presented at Beveridge Magnet Middle School. Chapman is a theater educator who creates safe spaces for students of all ages to explore self-expression and creativity.
The play by McGee, a playwright from Golden Valley, Minnesota, and project officer for Minnesota Humanities, was fictional; however, it addresses a very real event in American history.
The character of Frederick Douglass serves as narrator. The story has a brilliant slave named Lewis traveling to Galveston, Texas, to sell cattle. He learned there that President Abraham Lincoln had freed the slaves 2½ years earlier. Because he learned this guarded secret, he was killed by slave catchers.
Over the next couple of years his mythical figure soars over the earth and through the skies as an eagle and protector of his people. On June 19, 1865, the Texas captives received the freedom mandate delivered by Gen. Gordon Granger, thus the term Juneteenth.
Latosha Washington, teacher at Minne Lusa Elementary School, said, “I thought the play was remarkable and provided the students a glimpse of American history in a thought-provoking way.”
The cast was riveting. There were cast members of all age groups. Their portrayals of slaves and slave masters were so realistic it brought one to tears.
“While it certainly was an honor to see my written work come to life by such a talented team, it was more satisfying seeing the audience learning about the absent narrative — Juneteenth via the arts,” McGee said. “Except for one, the youth actors were all new to the theater.
“I saw each child’s confidence increase show after show. It demonstrated to the children how they, too, can write and tell their own story.”
People who were part of the production felt privileged to be a part of it.
Delores Matthews, the music director, said, “It’s been an awesome project; it’s been an honor working with the talented team of artists. It’s an informative and educational play.”
Ledonna White Griffin, principal of Masters Elementary School, said, “I have worked tirelessly for 25 years to ensure that students are provided educational opportunities and experiences such as this. The freedom mandate delivered on June 19, 1865, is still celebrated today as a day of remembrance and freedom.”
The generous “village sponsors” were the Nebraska Arts Council, Masters, Beveridge, Metropolitan Community College, the NAACP’s Omaha branch, Urban League of Nebraska, Aframerican Bookstore, Hilton Omaha hotel and Minnesota Humanities Center.
Other villagers included facilitators of post-production dialogue: Arvin Frazier, Sharif Liwaru, Vickie Young, Ledonna White Griffin, the Rev. Kenneth Allen and Elmer Crumbley.