Martin Luther King Jr. Day has always been one of the most significant holidays on campus. While most other institutions treat this day as a break from classes, Bates facilitates numerous discussions, conversations and events throughout the weekend in order to celebrate King’s legacy. For the Bates community, his efforts were not halted when he was assassinated. They are continuously supported and carried out every day. On this momentous day, several students performed the annual Sankofa production on the Schaeffer stage. This year’s performance illustrates the struggles black women face in different demographics and environments.
Directed by Raegine Clouden Mallett ’18 and Kenyata Venson ’18, this performance depicts the individual stories of a group of friends, all black women from different parts of the world. There were characters from Egypt, Brazil, the United States and the Middle East. The performers also represented members of the LGBTQ community, in addition to people suffering from depression, suicidal thoughts and abuse. This variance in characters was able to encompass many struggles that black women face. The stories were depicted in a play-like setting, dance performance, powerful spoken word and song, and each one was introduced by the group of friends as they sat together in a casual living room setting to discuss the ongoing struggles they face.
Clouden Mallett performed in last year’s production of Sankofa, and then she was asked to consider directing this year’s performance. “It was an extremely hard and stressful process, but extremely worth it in the end,” she said. “There is no greater feeling than creating something out of nothing and putting all your energy into a production, and having an audience of people from all walks of life vibe with you and return all that energy in the form of love and appreciation.” The relationships she’s built and the lessons she’s learned will be carried with her throughout her time at Bates.
Venson had a similar experience when she was asked to direct the production. Despite having no past experience in the realm of theater production, she was ready to take on the challenge and portray something many members of our community are passionate about. “The whole process has been successful because, even though it took time to put together the different pieces, we were able to get across to the audience the different struggles of the Afro-Woman,” Venson commented.
Clouden Mallett stated that the biggest obstacle was finding a strong cast and motivating them to work with herself and Venson as they developed the performance as first-tine directors. The fact that none of them “have ever done something like this meant that [they] did a lot of figuring out of what works and what doesn’t work throughout the entire process.” Nevertheless, she believes Sankofa had a profound impact on the Bates community. She said, “I think that because the production was short and powerful, people were able to really digest the information. I believe that because the production touched upon many different subjects, the audience had a variety of issues that they can choose to connect to emotionally.”
The production had such an effect on campus that Professor Charles Nero of the Rhetoric Department created a presentation about the performance as part of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day series of events. Venson expressed her excitement for this “because even the people who didn’t attend the production were able to get an understanding of the information presented which then leads to conversations. Conversations are an important part in appreciating the Afro-Woman.”
Creating personal relationships with the main characters and being able to inspire young women to be who they are even though they face hardships were just a couple of big takeaways for Venson. Empowering black women and having their stories told were the goals of the entire performance, and she certainly saw the results. “Struggle creates growth and growth creates a strong beautiful woman.”