If you don’t know enough about who are, you will become something you aren’t supposed to be.
It’s a day like any other.
You and your closest family members are bringing groceries into the house, each running in and out trying to complete the task as quickly as possible. One family member, a child helps as much as their attention span will let them.
They’re filled with energy, life…joy.
After bringing in yet another bag, you go to make your way back out to the car, and are stopped in your tracks at the sound of screeching tires and loud popping noises coming from outside. Your brain instantly registers danger. In the time it takes you to run and check on your family members, one of whom has been shot and killed, the person responsible is already peeling off down the road.
The world is spinning.
Not spinning like any other day when you barely notice it; spinning like you’ve just stepped into someone else’s life and yours has crumbled beneath you…right along with your legs. You’re hunched over their lifeless body, the child’s lifeless body, screaming so loudly your brain can’t even register that it’s you screaming.
No energy. No life. No joy.
Excruciating, soul wrenching, pain.
How does one find their way back to joy after such tragedy?
This scenario, which plays out across our nation more times than we should have to count, was the starting point for a play by John Graves III titled, Black Kid Joy.
To commemorate his 30th birthday, the 10th anniversary of his non-profit production company John Graves Productions, and his 10th stage production, Graves presented the play with hopes of bringing the community–both the African-American and Philadelphia community–JOY. We responded (I say we because I had the pleasure of attending and supporting the final night of the production) responded by selling out five shows at the Philadelphia Arts Bank.
This was my first time attending a John Graves Production and I must say that this play did his titles of “writer, producer, composer, choreographer, actor and director” MUCH JUSTICE. While the play was largely Christian-centered (which did pique my interest as to how those who aren’t religious, or are of a differing religious belief, felt about the play) it offered plenty to think about in terms of race relations, ancestry and lineage, religion and spirituality, as well as oppression and overcoming. I think what I appreciated the most was the way that–I believe at least–it challenged and explored the definition of freedom (as in free both in life and death).
All photos by Rejean Wilson.
So what was the play about?
Chris, played by 10 years-old Kai A. Thompson, is with his parents when his life is tragically taken as a result of gun violence. His spirit arrives at a place called “Melanin,” where he’s taken on an emotional yet empowering journey through time–one that challenges him to accept the reality of his death, while also teaching him who he is and where he comes from. Throughout the play, three dimensions in time are lived simultaneously. There’s: (1) the present day which focuses on Chris’ parents as they struggle with their grief during the holiday season; (2) Chris as he travels decades through the African-American experience in the United States including slavery, the civil rights movement, and the “superpredator” era; and (3) Before Christ which focuses on Mary (played by Seraiah Nicole F.) and Joseph (Earl Grant) as they prepare to birth a son that is destined to die but promised to be a savior for God’s people.
Collectively, these story lines both celebrate and critically analyze the history, beauty, complexity, tragedy, and spirit of black culture, as well as the way in which melanin influences the human experience.
The continuous whisper that “freedom start in the mind” coupled with the mantra, “you are Black, you are brown, you are yellow, you are gold,” reflect this urging to think critically and fully embrace oneself and one’s heritage.
Through the constant flow of gospel and soulful singing; African, contemporary and modern dancing; and poignant dialogue, Black Kid Joy essentially asserts that pain and joy go hand in hand, and each bear a gift for humanity.
"We know joy because we know pain."
Oh, did I mention the audience was invited on stage to do the electric slide at the close of the final production?
#BlackKidJoy can’t get anymore joyous than the electric slide y’all–well maybe a family BBQ. Yeah, the electric slide at a family BBQ where all the food is on point (side-eyes to the potato salad) and no one cheats in spades (Unc always cheats, gotta watch him)…that might just top an electric slide on stage. But given that the play was presented during the winter holiday season and actually featured a family BBQ scene that was true to life, this brought plenty of joy to go around!
To John Graves III, the cast of over 40 Philadelphia artists, dancers, singers, and actors and all those behind the scenes who made the production possible, congratulations and THANK YOU for lending your talents to such thought-provoking and spirited storytelling.
Want to learn more about John Graves III, John Graves Productions, master classes (dance and improv), the upcoming play “Moses” (only two shows slated for Feb. 25th), or a place “where the cool people shop”?
Click here and thank me later. 😉
– Sincerely Syreeta
Ps: Interested in participating in a 6 week dance or performing arts intensive training program starting February 19th ($35/week and discounts are available)? E-mail JGP.firstname.lastname@example.org!