Nebraska Rep + The Black Rep Kick-off #realchange Collaboration

The Nebraska Repertory Theatre and the St. Louis Black Repertory Company launch their two-year #realchange partnership Friday, Oct. 2 at 6:00 pm with a virtual event “The Continuum: Civil Rights to Black Lives Matter.” To reserve a ticket, go to http://nebraskarep.org.

The event will feature a St. Louis Black Rep performance of Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It written by Cheryl L. West and A Conversation with Sonia Sanchez.

Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It tells us about an activist who spoke out about voter registration and civil rights in African American communities. It showcases songs and speeches that inspire and chronicle the story of Fannie Lou Hamer’s experience. The production will feature Thomasina Clarke in the role of Fannie Lou Hamer with accompaniment by Dennis Brock on guitar. The production is directed by Ron Himes, Producing Director of The Black Rep. Nebraska Rep Artistic Director Andy Park said, “I’m really excited for the Nebraska Rep and The Black Rep audiences to join together to experience this play about Fannie Lou Hamer. This powerful show really speaks to the moment. It deals powerfully with voting rights, civil rights and the need for #realchange.”

Speak On It was originally set to premiere at The Goodman Theatre this year as a full-length production. With the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming election, the playwright decided to create a 30-minute version for various organizations to produce.

The evening also features A Conversation with Sonia Sanchez. Sonia Sanchez—poet, activist, scholar—was the Laura Carnell Professor of English and Women’s Studies at Temple University. She is the recipient of both the Robert Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime service to American poetry and the Langston Hughes Poetry Award. One of the most important writers of the Black Arts Movement, Sanchez is the author of sixteen books. 

Ron Himes serves as coordinator and planner of three events associated with the Nebraska Rep’s #realchange racial justice initiative, working in close collaboration with Nebraska Rep Executive Director Christina Kirk and Artistic Director Andy Park. The evening will include discussions with actors, scholars, activists and audience members. Guest panelists include Kristian Blackmon; Dr. Jonathan Smith, The Black Rep’s board chair; and Dr. Michael Simanga who serves as the Moderator.

“I am so excited to launch this initiative with this group of artists and panelists and especially honored to present A Conversation with Sonia Sanchez. She has been at the forefront of real change for decades,” said Himes.

Dr. Michael Simanga

Michael Simanga is an activist writer, multi-discipline artist, scholar and educator.  He came of age during the Civil Rights/Black Power Movement in his hometown Detroit.  He began his life as an activist in high school where he helped lead the first high school student takeover for justice at Mumford High School.  He was an organizer in the UAW, a leading member of the Congress of African People, the African Liberation Support Committee, the National Black Assembly, the National Black United Front, the anti-apartheid movement, and the labor movement. His work has taken him to Black communities across the US and in Africa, the Caribbean and Central America.  

Dr. Simanga is a dynamic speaker who has lectured in schools, universities, churches, rural and urban communities and in 10 countries in the world community and at the United Nations.  He has also read his poetry on hundreds of stages. 

He currently teaches in the Department of African American Studies at Morehouse College where he is also the Academic Program Director of Africana Studies and History.  He is on the doctoral faculty of the Union Institute and University where he also is director of the Martin Luther King Studies Specialization.  His research interests include 20th century Black radical movements, Civil Rights, Black Power and Pan-Africanism, art and culture as expressions of identity, resistance and transformation. He writes and lectures on Civil Rights/Black Power and Politics, African American and African Diaspora art, culture, politics and history, human rights and justice.  As an artist and cultural worker, he has produced more than 200 artistic projects and is the former Executive Director of the National Black Arts Festival.

His books include No One Can be at Peace without Freedom; Amiri Baraka and the Congress of African People and In the Shadow of the Son. He is also editor or co-editor of 44 on 44: forty-four African American Writers on the Election of Barack Obama; and Brilliant Fire! Amiri Baraka, Poetry, Plays and Politics for the People. Forthcoming books 2019-20 include: 400yrs the story of Black people in poems written from love; David Franklin: Black Power Entrepreneur; We Walk the Way of the New World: Essays on the Life and work of Haki Madhubuti (Don L. Lee).

Michael Simanga is married to the poet Lita Hooper.  They live in Atlanta with their four children and four grandchildren.

Dr. Jonathan Smith

Dr. Jonathan C. Smith serves as the Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement at Saint Louis University, where he is also an Assistant Professor in the African American Studies Program. His teaching and research focus on the history and ideology of race in American culture. He has particular interests in how ideologies of race shape and are shaped by African American literature and culture. He is also a widely published poet. Dr. Smith’s work has appeared in Callaloo, Quarterly West, Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review, Crab Orchard Review, Minnesota Review and the Riverfront Times. He holds both a Ph.D. in English & American Literature and a M.F.A. in Writing from Washington University in Saint Louis, where he was the recipient of the prestigious Chancellor’s Fellowship for African American students. Jonathan is also an award winning teacher and an alumnus of Cave Canem.

Kristian Blackmon

Kristian Blackmon is a native of St. Louis, MO. Her passion lies in the fight for black liberation, injustice and oppression that negatively impacts ALL people.

She is a community organizer, art curator, activist, facilitator, trainer, and has done work in both radio & event hosting.

She has done teaching artist work through the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and Cherokee Street Development Group.

She has curated work with at least 30 established and emerging artists and has trained up to 300 participants both locally and nationally.

Kristian was a recipient of the 2016 Unsung Human Rights Shero award from the St. Louis Coalition of Human Rights, was named We Raise 2016 Emerging Leader, a recipient of the Professional Growth award from St. Louis Black Pride and was a 2019 Delux Magazine Power 100 awardee.  

The St. Louis Black Repertory Company was founded in 1976 by Producing Director Ron Himes. The Black Rep is one of the largest professional African-American theatre companies in the nation and the largest African-American performing arts organization in Missouri. Quality professional dramas, comedies and musicals by primarily African-American and third world playwrights are produced. Mainstage productions and education programs combine to reach more than 80,000 people annually.

The Nebraska Rep, an Actors’ Equity Association professional theatre, is the state’s only professional regional theatre. It resides in Nebraska’s Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film in the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts. 

For more information about Nebraska Rep, visit http://nebraskarep.org. For more information about The Black Rep, visit https://theblackrep.org.



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