Eboné Lockett is an English teacher at West Mecklenburg High School who wanted innovative ways to challenge students.
She decided to use theater. This month, some of her students will present “The Children of Children Keep Coming: An Epic Griotsong.”
Performances will be 7 p.m. Feb. 6 and 7 at Duke Energy Theater inside Spirit Square, on North Tryon Street in Charlotte.
Lockett moved to Charlotte from Hartford, Conn., in 2007. She has been an educator for 14 years.
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“Many students come to school with more than their fair share of challenges,” she said.
Lockett said she believed a theatrical production provided a safe place for students to express their passion.
There is a story to how Lockett selected the play.
A college professor and mentor of Lockett’s, Dr. Kim Bridgford from Fairfield University in Connecticut came to Charlotte in October 2013.
“Dr. Bridgford took me to see a production called, ‘The Children of Children Keep Coming: An Epic Griotsong,’ performed by Quentin Talley and his company, On Q Performing Arts,” Lockett said.
The play was taken from a book written by Russell Goings, also a former student of Bridgford’s. Lockett said the theatrical experience inspired her to bring that production to her students.
“Goings wrote a book about African-American history, from slavery up until the present. He was a dear friend and confidant of Romare Bearden,” said Lockett.
“Before he died, Romare Bearden gave Goings a series of black-and-white drawings of African-Americans. He instructed Goings to do something with his drawings to tell our story.
“The work is an epic that chronicles the African-American struggle against slavery and the human struggle for freedom. Over a 14-year period, Goings translated those images into the book-length poem.”
Lockett has described the play as an admirable lesson in history and humanity.
The first half will be directed by Lockett, and Oneaka Mack will provide dance choreography. Act one will include dramatic and musical portrayals of Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Billie Holiday, Rosa Parks and others.
“The spirit of those giants will drive the second act as the students tell their own stories through poems and songs. The second act is their voice,” said Lockett. Both Lockett and Goings wrote poems for the second act, which will be directed by Kami Shalom.
Lockett said other departments at West Mecklenburg will be involved. The cosmetology students will do the makeup for school credit. The history, art and music departments also will be involved.
“Collaborative efforts of The Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, The Arts & Science Council, Charlotte Teachers Institute, the Gantt Center, the West Mecklenburg PTSA and a host of other willing villagers shaped the motivation for the play,” Lockett said.
Lockett received a Teacher Innovation Fund grant from the Charlotte Hornets, Fox Sports and Lowe’s, in partnership with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Schools Foundation.
“The $5,000 grant will help fund our interdisciplinary musical and help publish a curriculum unit designed around performance learning,” Lockett said.
More than 40 students have volunteered for the production.
One student, Kristopher Thomas, talked about the play with a woman in a neighborhood laundry room. That woman, Kay Dewitt, has now joined the project as a mentor and contributor. Dewitt will play the violin in the second act.
“She has assisted us tremendously with this collaborative effort,” said Lockett.
Bridgford and Goings will attend both performances.
Goings also will have book signings after each performance.
Lockett said she hopes the entire community will support the production. Lockett summed up her feelings by saying, “This truly shows what happens when our villages come together … what we can accomplish.”