Sitting in the afterglow of the state of Georgia turning a brilliant, Democratic-hued blue in the 2020 presidential election last November, thanks to the organization efforts of black women activists and advocates such as Tamieka Atkins, Helen Butler, Nsé Ufot, Deborah Scott, and, of course, Stacey Abrams, I found myself awestruck by their tenacity and their resiliency. I particularly admire their determination to reveal a truth native Georgians have known for a long time: The South is not a monolith. The electorate is diverse. The barriers to progress are a systemic infrastructure meant to suppress dissenting voices. The citizens of Georgia casting more ballots for Joe Biden than for the Republican incumbent Donald Trump is a testament to the power of collective action behind a singular, idealistic vision.
But as I watched the returns slowly build into the lead that resulted in Biden’s eventual victory, I could not help but think of Stacey Abrams. She lost the Georgia gubernatorial race to Brian Kemp in 2018 by 50,000 votes—an election Kemp himself oversaw as the secretary of state of Georgia, and an election that has become infamous for Kemp’s decision to purge nearly 670,000 voter registrations the year before, in what has been alleged to be part of a campaign of racist voter suppression. Immediately following her concession, Abrams rose to national prominence. She was the first African American woman to deliver a rebuttal to the State of the Union speech in February of 2019, and Biden shortlisted her as a potential running mate. Then, in August of 2019, she announced Fair Fight 2020, which organized voter protection teams in 20 states and registered 800,000 new voters in Georgia alone. Georgia may have turned its back on Abrams, but Abrams did not turn her back on Georgia. She fought for and with the Georgians who knew that change was not only possible but within reach.
Change is undeniably necessary. American institutions have thus far failed to prove why we should continue to place our faith in their vision. We are either witnessing or experiencing firsthand the righteous, incandescent fury of those who have been marginalized by the same organizations that purport to serve and support them. The civic unrest sparked by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery compelled many theatres, including my own, Alliance Theatre, to issue statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Theatre workers who are Black, Indigenous, or people of color (BIPOC) were soon compelled to point out the hypocrisy of the organizations making these statements. As the We See You White American Theater website points out: “Our love of theatre has often meant surviving an industry-wide culture of fear poisoned by racism and its intersecting oppressions.”
It should be devastating for our field that it took a document signed by hundreds of BIPOC theatre workers for any institution to rigorously interrogate their own perpetuation of white supremacy. For any organization to continue ignoring this pain is akin to criminal negligence. Given these institutional failures, what would compel anyone to stay?
My hope is that because change is possible, it is also within reach.
The rage we feel is an indisputable engine that propels us into action. In an interview with them, Stacey Abrams said as much regarding her gubernatorial campaign:
I was angry. It didn’t dissipate; it stayed hot. I gave myself permission to be as angry as I needed to be, but I also returned to the core of who I am to do something about it. Instead of this anger being a distraction, it’s a fuel for me. It’s not about my loss, particularly; it’s about a system that betrayed itself. It was betrayed by the person who was responsible for the system. It was betrayed by every person in public office who watched it happen and did nothing about it because it benefited them or didn’t harm them. That betrayal is what makes me so angry.
Anger can be a destructive force, but it is exactly that leveling potential that makes it an essential tool in helping us identify and raze the oppressive structures which prop up the inequities in our workplaces. Anger should be present as we continue these conversations. Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion initiatives and committees are a helpful framework to advance our goals, but that we need them at all should inspire anger. After all, could it not be said that their very existence is an indictment of our ability to view employees and audiences as fully and wholly human as we do the characters on our stages?
As Daviorr Snipes, the Alliance’s director of Equity, Diversity, and Engagement, has told me before, we are asking an industry about its fundamental truth. Is it truly a place that is about the human story? About the human heart? The humanity and complexity of an individual? If it is, then equity is essential to who we are, and it should be fundamental to our administrative work. We have no excuse for it not to be. If we continue to do nothing in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, then we are complicit in a system that has betrayed itself.
After We See You W.A.T. starkly illustrated the Alliance Theatre’s failure to hire a leadership representative of the racial makeup of our city, I found myself in a Zoom room with my departmental colleagues who work in the theatre’s education department. They were passionately rousing each other to continue organizing and reenvisioning, and to fight for a more equitable and just and accessible theatre. Rather than feel frustrated and powerless, we got angry. From that anger, we generated forward motion. We would take our personal convictions and apply it to our work and demand the Alliance Theatre follow.
We are focused on four key areas, led by Aierelle Jacob, our Head of Strategic Initiatives, who is fearlessly spearheading this fight.
- One: We are working to develop scholarship programs for our camps and classes.
- Two: We are reorganizing the recruitment of interns and developing a compensation plan to create an equitable workforce development model that trains the next generation of teaching artists.
- Three: We are creating anti-racist curriculums for our classes and camps and in-school programs.
- Four: BIPOC artist recruitment, retention, and support.
I also want to follow Abrams’s example of gratitude. On Twitter she encouraged us to “shout out those who’ve been in the trenches and deserve the plaudits for change.” I think we would all do well to follow her example; I call on us all to shout out those who’ve been in trenches and deserve the plaudits for making change. And any time you find yourself losing faith, come back to take a look and read the names of those who’ve inspired you to stay angry, stay accountable, and demand nothing less than justice.
I’ll start here. These names are individuals who I have worked with in various capacities to drive change for the arts in Atlanta. They have been invaluable to the search for an anti-racist future of our institution and, by extension, our beloved city of Atlanta:
Maya Lawrence. Hallie Angelella. Olivia Aston Bosworth. Chris Moses. Collins Desselle. Sam Provenzano. Christina Dresser. Aierelle Jacob. Liz Davis. Rebecca Pogue. Robert Hindsman. Jasmine Thomas. Kristen Silton. J Noble. Julianne Gambert. Rita Kompelmakher. Liz Campbell. Skylar Burks. Daviorr Snipes. Donya Washington. Emika Abe. Michael Winn. Emily Kleypas. Hershey Millner. Sarah Wallis. Kristen Buckley. Alexis Woodard. Jessenia Ingram.
I hope I don’t lose sight of my colleagues’ anger, because it tells me where my faith lives.
Patrick Myers is the education process manager for the Alliance Theatre.
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