A Raisin in the sunniest city

A few hours before we saw the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe‘s remarkable production of Raisin, and one day after I posted a reflection of my own neighborhood’s sweet Halloween celebration, I saw a Facebook post that broke my heart.

Written by an occupational therapist for the Appleton Area School District, the post told the story of a young girl who had been trick-or-treating with friends and family members until they came to a house at which a woman gave everyone in the party candy except the little girl, who, unlike her brother, was not wearing a mask.

According to the post, the woman said, “No, you’re a (N word)” and slammed the door in the child’s face.

It is hard to believe an incident so vile happened in my beloved city, and yet…

I recently had an eye-opening conversation with my hair stylist after she said someone had told her she lived in the least diverse school district in the state.

“So, it’s my fault if I want to live in an area where people actually work for a living?” she said.

I was pretty stunned by her response and, later, explained to her that her comment was offensive on many levels.

At first, she didn’t understand my point.

“You’re equating diversity to a lack of work ethic,” I said.

“Oh,” she said. “I get it. Wow. That is pretty bad.”

It really is.

A song in Raisin, the musical adaption of Lorraine Hansbury’s groundbreaking and semi-autobiographical 1959 play A Raisin in the Sun, talks about measuring the valleys of a man.

“When you know how a dream can fade

How a man comes to be so afraid

When you know where’s he’s been

Take a look at him again

Measure the valleys, measure the hills.”

It struck me, as Jannie Jones belted out a version so moving it brought tears to my eyes, that we need to measure the valleys of our neighborhoods as well. And, to do so, we need to have honest conversations about diversity and respect, illusions and reality, fears and understanding.

A Raisin in the Sun tells the story of a black family’s attempt to move to a better neighborhood in Chicago in 1959 and is based on Langston Hughes’s poem Harlem.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore —

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over —

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Martin Luther King had a dream and we quote it annually in memes and speeches. We think we’ve made progress, and we have, because the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination.

But, real progress requires honest talk, a hike through the valley of fear and ignorance, and that’s not always an easy thing to do.

If you hear vile words, call out the speaker. Engage in conversations that calmly but firmly educate. Encourage kindness and mutual respect in your household. Resist the urge to make judgments based on skin color, facial features or attire.

Open your heart, your ears and your mind.

Lead with love.

And, if you ever get a chance to see a performance of the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe in Sarasota, Florida, do it.

It really was amazing.

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Guess which members of my sister Kathy and brother in-law Keith’s wedding party are finishing up med school? Attended college on scholarship? Wrote a best selling book? I can tell you this, you won’t be able to answer those questions based on anyone’s skin color or ethnic background. And, just for the record, I think they’re all remarkable people.
Mom and Ruth Pitts
I took this picture of my mom and the delightful Ruth Pitts at the 2015 Packer Alumni Reunion. Elijah Pitts and my dad, Ron Kostelnik, were rookies together on the Packers and played on the same team for eight years. Ruth and my mom have been friends since 1961. We learned from both our parents to consider character, not color, when choosing our friends.

 

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I think this theatre troupe is a treasure and I intend to see them as often as possible (which is tricky because  I live in Wisconsin and also because they are sold out for their whole season).
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Bravo! to this talented cast!
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Photos were strictly forbidden (even the curtain call), but my mom and I were so thrilled with our front row seats that we took a vacation foot picture before the show started. Raisin is a revival of the 1974 Tony Award winning musical. If I haven’t mentioned it before, we loved it.

 

 

6 thoughts on “A Raisin in the sunniest city

  1. Makes me feel angry that any child or any person would be treated that way. Thanks for the reminder that our charming city is not always perfect and that we need to treat one another with the respect and love that we hope to get in return. God made each of us unique for a reason.

  2. How could any parent do that to a child. I’ve been working with Appleton North Football for 10 years. We’re usually around 150 kids and have a number of minority athletes. I have never witnessed a single incidence of prejudice of any kind. I have never witnessed any separation in groups, and even at Camp Salm, everyone is the same. With that, I’m thinking our kids may be better/smarter than some adults, and our future looks like it may be going in the right direction. Have faith!!

  3. We have not been able to go to this performance however LOVED the one we did go to! It was wonderful in every way.

  4. It’s so good that you spoke up. So often we are afraid to speak up when we hear crude remarks. I quit giving folks a pass. It’s time everyone learns to do better. As you said: If you hear vile words, call out the speaker.
    I agree. To not do so only allows ignorance to persist. It harms everyone.

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