Dramatic Discoveries

Readers share stories of personal awakenings

Throwing in a groan-inducing reference to sun and warmth, graduate student Keron Hopkins appeared on video from Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. She introduced her audience to the writings of J. California Cooper, whose stories are about the convergence of lives, the people we touch and those who touch us.

Then the lights came up and the writings of African-American authors came to life through dramatizations and readings at the 4th annual African-American Read-In at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The program, held in the Miller Nichols iX Theatre on Wednesday, Feb. 20, began with a welcome from librarian Tom Burns and Bonnie Postlethwaite, Dean of Libraries.

“Hair-volution” was staff member Ashley Davis’s way of sharing her journey, from trying to defeat the shape and texture of her hair with products and relaxers, to a loving and beautiful relationship with her real hair – and her real self. She stopped idolizing the ‘80s TV stars sporting long blonde manes, instead admiring the big, natural looks of Moogega Cooper, a planetary protection engineer at NASA and one of TV’s Kings of the Nerds; and movie notable Viola Davis.

“I let my hair define me, but I’m done. I have a new perception of myself, and a new perception of others,” Davis concluded.

Anatole Broyard’s story, related by his daughter Bliss in One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life-A Story of Race and Family Secrets, was Tom Burns’ contribution. He talked about the terrible price paid for hiding one’s true racial identity. In Broyard’s case, he was cut off from family, distanced from his culture and tormented by living a lie.

White preconceptions were the subject of Nikki Giovanni’s poem, “Nikki-Rosa,” read by Karen Dace, deputy chancellor for diversity, access, & equity. Giovanni took to task those who observed black life without living black life. Giovanni’s bloodline had its own construct of family, its own happiness and its own miseries – not because they were black, but because they were human.

Dianne Smith, professor in the School of Education, chose Dr. Bell Hooks’ Sisters of the Yam, a book that has been particularly influential for Smith. After finding, through informal therapy sessions, that many of her female students suffered shame and low self-esteem, Hooks countered the idea of blackness as a negative and encouraged her students and her readers to stop hating the blackness in themselves.

“The world is before you. You need not take it or leave it as it was when you came in.” These words of James Baldwin, spoken about the indestructible ties between blacks and whites, were read by Scott Curtis, librarian.

The details of a car trip and casual interview with her father were recited by dental librarian Tracey Hughes. She talked about the discoveries of people, of individuals and of self by learning their histories. In dramatic fashion, she illustrated the reason why her dad never lost his temper or displayed anger.

At the end, a young man shared some family history and closed with a reading of Langston Hughes’ The Negro Speaks of Rivers.

“I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the flow
of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.”

Another session of the read-in will be at Hospital Hill on Feb 28th, 12:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Diastole Scholars Center, 2501 Holmes.

For more information, call Tracey Hughes (Diastole session).

Photo credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications.

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