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      “OH WOW, JAMAICA!” by Jessie Thompson

      b13 21The Colored Museum is a far-out, fantastical and gritty play with an all African American cast that premiered in the 80s. I was in theater school in Syracuse, NY at the time, and one of the grad students chose it as her directing project. I had a stage management requirement to fill, so I put my name in the hat to be the stage manager for this production. When the director met me, she made it clear I did not fit her vision for the project. I was white, everyone else involved was black. She wanted it to be an all African American project, backstage and onstage. Fortunately for me, I was the only one who applied, so she had to take me on.

      A few weeks into it I remember her telling me she thought I was "ok” after all. I was cool with her, even though I was white. Huh.

      I was nineteen, and being raised by civil rights-working parents I had been the only white girl in the room before. I assumed I’d always be accepted by anyone, ‘cause I’m a good person, right? I have brown friends, you know.


      In trying to cozy up to my new director I asked her where she was from. “Kingston”, she said, curtly. “Oh wow, Jamaica!”, I said. “No, Kingston, New York.” Mortified.

      I remember watching the play unfold, a series of vignettes, and how profoundly wowed I felt listening to these stories about worlds and ways that were unknown to me. It was fascinating, and a little frightening. I remember how excited and interested my father was that I was working on this play, aligning myself in a small way with one of the great causes of his life. He worked so hard to uplift others and build understanding and equality in our community. He’d be both heartbroken and heartened if he were alive now. The situation has both deteriorated and evolved.

      When it comes to race it’s a whole new conversation out there. It’s a great time for us to open our ears and our hearts, and a great time to honor MLK, the foundations his leadership put in place, and his peaceful, powerful message of love.

      If you ever get the chance to see The Colored Museum, jump at it. It’s weird and wild and powerful.

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