Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Scottsboro Boys: Holding onto the Truth

Let me start off by saying that this has NOTHING to do with transracial adoption. But after my experience on Wednesday, December 9, I feel compelled to speak through my blog.

Last night, I went to one of the final shows of The Scottsboro Boys on Broadway, as it will close on December 12, 2010. This is an incredibly powerful musical, telling a difficult story of nine African-American teens who were falsely accused of raping two white women in the state of Alabama in the early 1930s. Not exactly your typical happy-feel-good musical.

I admit it: I went into last night’s performance with a peripheral knowledge of the topic. When asked, ‘What’s it about?’, I didn’t have a clear answer except ‘Something about racial injustice.’ I did not do my homework.

It seems that the people I went with did not do their homework either.

Let me start from the beginning. This outing on Broadway was organized by my employer. See, I work in alumni relations and development for an independent school (a.k.a. private school). I’m intentionally leaving out the name of this school because, frankly, what I experienced could have taken place at ANY independent school. Heck, it could have happened at any of the performances. It probably did.
We hosted a pre-performance reception all attendees to get a drink, grab a quick bite, meet each other and pick up their tickets. As I went around talking with people and taking pictures for our school magazine, it was clear to me that most of us were entering into The Scottsboro Boys with very little knowledge about the musical itself. As all 60 of us filed into the Lyceum Theatre and found our seats, I marveled at the intimacy of the small theatre. What a magical place! There’s nothing like seeing a Broadway show. The bell rang, the lights dimmed, and the opening number began - we were off on our magical Broadway ride. And as each song told its story and I’m being wowed by the extremely talented performers on stage, it happened.

Two people in my row got up and left the show.

The fact that I had to get up to let them out of my row made it all the more stunning for me. My mind raced with thoughts: ‘Really? Are they really leaving? Can’t they see how talented these performers are? Don’t they see how hard everyone worked on this show? Can’t they at least give the show a chance to speak to them?’

Then I reminded myself: Not everyone likes to lean into discomfort to challenge themselves. It takes practice to do this. It takes a presence of mind and the ability to be in the moment when something pricks our conscience and challenges our thinking.

The powerful message of this musical is to hold onto the truth. Have the courage to break free from opinions and traditions. After the musical ended, the words of the Declaration of Independence kept ringing in my mind:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
By telling their stories, The Scottsboro Boys reminds us how the U.S.A. has a long way to go before we achieve the goal of “all men are created equal.” I leave with this thought and question: Holding onto the truth comes with a cost. Is the cost worth it?

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