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Gunshot Medley Brings Black Theatre to the Electric Lodge

LOS ANGELES SENTINEL — “Gunshot Medley: Part I” is the latest play to hit the stage at the Electric Lodge on Abbot Kinney Boulevard near Venice Beach. Running until August 19, the play tells the story of American history through the eyes of three slaves.

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Donathan Walters (left) as George, Mildred Langford (middle) as Betty, and Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield (right) as High Priestess in Gunshot Medley: Part 1. (Photo Credit: Cristian Kreckler)

A play with a Black cast, director, and playwright tells a story of pain, racism, and hope at the Electric Lodge.

By Shaquille Woods

“Gunshot Medley: Part I” is the latest play to hit the stage at the Electric Lodge on Abbot Kinney Boulevard near Venice Beach. Running until August 19, the play tells the story of American history through the eyes of three slaves.

The playwright, Dionna Michelle Daniel, was inspired to write this play in 2015, after the Charleston Church shooting. While in North Carolina, she visited a graveyard where she found the graves of Betty, Alvis, and George who would eventually become the characters for “Gunshot Medley: Part I.” All that was left on the graves were their names and the dates that they died, each before the Emancipation Proclamation. Daniel also found something unsettling in the graveyard — newly placed Confederate flags.

“At the time that I wrote ‘Gunshot Medley,’ there was so much going on with killings and discourse over the Confederate flag,” said Daniel. “For me the play is an awakening. It is so vital for Black people to tell our stories because we have lived through these experiences and the pain is real.”

Set in a haunted graveyard in North Carolina, audiences see the connections of racism through past and present. Betty, Alvis, and George are not able to rest their souls. They want to believe that things are better, and cover up the pain, but what they see in the present takes them back to their own past hurt. They see happy moments in Black culture as well, referencing famous songs and dances, but they are reminded of pain with each gunshot that they hear.

Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield (left) as High Preistess looks on as Derek Jackson (middle) and Mildred Langford (right) dance as Alvis and Betty in Gunshot Medley: Part 1. (Photo Credit: Cristian Krekcler)

Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield (left) as High Preistess looks on as Derek Jackson (middle) and Mildred Langford (right) dance as Alvis and Betty in Gunshot Medley: Part 1. (Photo Credit: Cristian Krekcler)

Betty represents a mother figure, constantly cleaning to cover up her pain. Alvis takes on a more playful role, looking for the beauty in everything, and George represents revolutionaries fighting and dying for change. The fourth character is High Priestess Oya. When Daniel originally wrote the play, she made a lot of reference to the wind and the rustle of leaves and treetops. One of her friends told her about Orisha Oya, an African goddess who is the ruler of storms and winds, and the protector of cemeteries.  From that comes the majestic character garbed in elegant reds and an expression of pain upon her face.

“The play was very powerful and moving,” said Tenille Jones, one of the audience members. “I think that it will open people’s eyes and make change for the better. I like how the main character, Betty, thought that she had to clean something up to solve the problems, but in the end, it showed that racism is more of a comprehensive problem. It’s not just a one-person problem, it’s a worldwide problem. I was very entertained. It’s a great way to spend an hour and support Black theatre.”

“Gunshot Medley: Part I” started as a project for a program at California Institute of the Arts, or CalArts, where Daniel graduated. She presented it in their 2016 New Works Festival and won the chance to go to New York to have a reading of the play and get it published. One of the readers from New York put Daniel in contact with Desean Terry of Collaborative Artists Bloc, a production team that produces performances that explore of cultural identity and promote social change. Terry became the director of “Gunshot Medley: Part I,” giving the play a Black cast, Black director, and Black playwright.

In 2018, Rogue Machine Theatre joined in and brought the production to the stage at the MET Theatre in Santa Monica for a two-week run. “Gun Shot Medley: Part I” also did a two-week run at the Watts Village Theater Company, where tickets were based on a donation of any amount and audience members could register to vote. Rogue Machine Theatre has brought the play back this year to the Electric Lodge. “Gunshot Medley: Part I” runs through August 19. Student tickets are $25.99 and general admission is $39.99. For more information and reservations, call (855) 585-5185 or visit www.collaborativeartistsbloc.org.

This article originally appeared in The Los Angeles Sentinel.

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IN MEMORIAM: Cheryl Hickmon: National President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Dies

NNPA NEWSWIRE — THE BURTON WIRE — Hickmon, a beloved and celebrated member, served the organization for 39 years. The Connecticut native was initiated into the Alpha Xi Chapter at South Carolina State University in 1982 and was an active member of the Hartford (Conn.) Alumnae Chapter. The national office of the sorority released a statement announcing Hickmon’s  death which reads as follows, in part: “It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.

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Cheryl Hickmon, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, the nation’s largest African-American sorority.

By Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D, NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor

The nation is mourning the passing of Cheryl Hickmon, national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated, the nation’s largest African-American sorority. Hickmon was elected president of the organization dedicated to sisterhood, scholarship and service  November 21, 2021 at the 55th national convention held in Atlanta, GA.

Hickmon, a beloved and celebrated member, served the organization for 39 years. The Connecticut native was initiated into the Alpha Xi Chapter at South Carolina State University in 1982 and was an active member of the Hartford (Conn.) Alumnae Chapter. The national office of the sorority released a statement announcing Hickmon’s  death which reads as follows:

“It is with great sorrow that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. shares the passing of our beloved National President and Chair of the National Board of Directors, Cheryl A. Hickmon. President Hickmon transitioned peacefully on January 20, 2022 after a recent illness.

President Hickmon was a devoted member of Delta Sigma Theta since 1982 and served in various capacities at the chapter, region, and national level before being elected National President. She is remembered not only for her role as a leader but for being a colleague, friend, and most of all, sister.

The entire sisterhood of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated mourns the loss of President Hickmon. During this difficult time, we ask that you respect her family’s privacy and keep them in your prayers.”

In addition to serving as the national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., Cheryl was employed at Montefiore’s Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Health in Hartsdale, NY where she supervised the In Vitro Fertilization Laboratories for Andrology and Endocrinology. A licensed Clinical Laboratory Technologist, Hickmon worked in the Reproductive Medical Laboratory for more than 30 years.
Members and supporters have been offering remembrances and calling for prayers in response to Hickmon’s death. Florida representative Val Demings,  who is a member of the sorority, shared her thoughts via Twitter:
Organizations including the NAACP and fellow Black Greek Letter Organizations like Omega Psi Phi, Phi Beta Sigma and Alpha Kappa Alpha have issued statements about Hickmon’s passing.

Cheryl Hickmon is the daughter of the late Dr. Ned Hickmon of Hartford, CT and Bishopville, South Carolina and the late Consuella Anderson Hickmon of Hartford, CT and Cincinnati, Ohio. She is survived by her two older brothers Ned and David Hickmon.

Hickmon’s bio reads, “Cheryl lives her life by the motto … ‘Don’t measure life by the number of breaths you take but by the number of moments that take your breath away.’” She was 60.

This obituary was written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.

Follow The Burton Wire on Instagram or Twitter @TheBurtonWire. 

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Parents Raise the Alarm About Violence in Schools, Say Their Votes Depends on Improvement

NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.

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NNPA NEWSWIRE — “Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.
About 52 percent said student mental health after coping with the pandemic is a significant issue, as well.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

A new poll revealed that parents continue to express “legitimate concerns” about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources.

Alarmingly, the poll released by the National Parents Union found that 59 percent of parents are very or extremely concerned about how schools are teaching race and diversity.

“Many Black parents are worried that schools are being harsher on students of color compared to white students,” researchers noted in the poll.

The National Parents Union counts as a network of parent organizations and grassroots activists committed to improving the quality of life for children and families in the United States.

Conducted from November 19 to November 23, the survey included 1,233 parents who also count as registered voters.

Researchers found that 84 percent of parents are concerned about how schools address the threat of violence, and 59 percent identified increased bullying or violence in school as a significant issue.

About 52 percent said student mental health after coping with the pandemic is a significant issue, as well.

“Parents have very legitimate concerns about violence in schools, increased bullying, and a lack of mental health resources,” Keri Rodrigues, co-founder, and President of the National Parents Union, said in a statement.

“Now, it is incumbent on schools to do something about these issues, especially given the federal funds available. It’s not rocket science. Rather than repaint a football field, first, make sure that there are enough counselors to help students cope with mental health issues,” Rodrigues asserted.

The poll also asked the parents who responded that they were concerned about the threat of violence, which worries them the most.

The top three most pressing concerns remain:

  • 44 percent: schools not having enough counselors, psychologists, or social workers to work with students
  • 42 percent: schools not having resources to keep weapons out of schools
  • 39 percent: schools not having school resource officers or police accessible on campus
  • 59 percent of parents are extremely or very concerned about how schools are teaching about race and diversity; Among Black parents, 69 percent share this sentiment, which drops slightly to 67 percent among Hispanic parents.

Of the overall number of parents who are at least somewhat concerned (79 percent):

  • 48 percent say what concerns them the most is schools are not teaching accurate information about the issue of race.
  • 42 percent are most concerned about schools pushing a progressive agenda onto students
  • 56 percent of GOP parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
  • 32 percent are most concerned that schools aren’t focused on the issue enough
  • 46 percent of Black parents who are concerned say this is their top concern
  • 78 percent of parents are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues
  • Nearly half (46 percent) of Black parents who said they are concerned about how schools are handling disciplinary issues are worried that schools are harsher on students of color compared to white students
  • 38 percent of parents trust Democrats to do a better job of handling education; 31 percent trust Republicans; 14 percent trust both equally; 11 percent trust neither

Among parents who identify as Independents, 28 percent trust Republicans and 20 percent trust Democrats.

“These findings underscore the importance of the very thing we have been imploring school leaders across the country to do – listen to the parents in your community,” Rodrigues stated.

“It also reinforces the need for those running for office to take the concerns of parents very seriously or risk losing elections.”

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COMMENTARY: Telling Our Family Stories Keeps Black History Alive

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of our favorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

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Dr. Margaret Fortune, Fortune School, University of Southern California (USC), football, USC marching band, marching bands, drumline, public charter school, Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School, family stories, life in the Carolinas, parents, grandparents, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, children’s book, Rex and the Band, grandma, Dr. Rex Fortune, retired public school superintendent, little Rex, spirited young boy, high-energy marching band, North Carolina A&T football games, sister’s beautifully illustrated book, Telling our family stories, African Americans, history, Griots, storytellers, grandparents, ancestors, passed on, Black press, clearinghouse, many stories, Black community, Ebony Jr., elementary school student, high school, Sacramento Observer newspaper, Cocoa Kids Books, engaging, authentic, uplifting, inspiring
Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

Let’s Talk Black Education

By Dr. Margaret Fortune, President/CEO Fortune School

When we were kids, my dad would take us to football games at the University of Southern California (USC). I didn’t care much for football, but I loved it when we’d stay after the game to hear the USC marching band play. His love for marching bands is why we have a drumline at the public charter school I founded and named after my parents — Rex and Margaret Fortune Early College High School.

We grew up hearing family stories about life in the Carolinas from our parents and grandparents. My sister, Gwen Fortune-Blakely, has written her first children’s book, Rex and the Band, inspired by one of ourfavorite stories our grandma used to tell about my dad, Dr. Rex Fortune, who is now a retired public school superintendent.

As the story goes, one day back in 1947, my grandma sent little Rex to the corner store to get some eggs so she could bake a cake. My dad bought the eggs and put them in his pockets. On the walk home, he encountered a marching band high-steppin’ down the dusty road to his mother’s house. Little Rex got so excited that he followed the band, beating on his legs like drums all the way home and, yes, breaking all the eggs.

“Rex and the Band” explores a day in the life of Rex, a spirited young boy who dreams of one day playing in a high-energy marching band like the ones he enjoys watching with his father during North Carolina A&T football games.

Reading my sister’s beautifully illustrated book, I cried tears of joy. Telling our family stories is such an important way for African Americans to keep our history alive. Griots, or storytellers, are the reason why we know the truths that we do know about our family history and ancestors.

I believe all of us can think back to when our grandparents would tell us stories about our ancestors who may have passed on before we were born. It was their way of making sure our stories were not only told but preserved.

The Black press has been the clearinghouse for many stories that have impacted the Black community over time. My sister published her first poem in Ebony Jr. as an elementary school student and then in high school she interned at the Sacramento Observer newspaper.

Gwen founded Cocoa Kids Books to publish books like “Rex and the Band” that encourage Black children to dream, aspire for more, and soar because they see themselves reflected in stories that are engaging, authentic, uplifting, and inspiring. I’m so proud of my big sis! You can buy Gwen’s book at https://store.bookbaby.com/book/rex-and-the-band.

Dr. Margaret Fortune is the president/CEO of Fortune School, a system of nine, K-12 public charter schools with over 2,300 students focused on closing the Black achievement gap by preparing students for college.

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