Dallas — Black and white was the theme at Oral Fixation’s ripping of Dallas’ “post racial” bandage that has covered up a gaping wound but has yet to heal it. Black and white storytellers and black and white singers told black and white stories to a black and white audience. There was no gray or brown or yellow or red. It was a very black and white night. Did this conversation heal the racial wounds of Dallas and beyond? Of course not — but it opened a conversation that is often times not had in mixed company, to let it breath and begin the therapeutic process.
Each of the seven storytellers related personal narratives of Dallas’ racial inequality, bias, prejudice and awakening with tinges of laughter, pain and resilience. Two musical performers, one black and one white, dressed in all black, set the mood for a bumpy ride with all three verses of a folkish “People Get Ready There’s a Train to Dallas.”
Dr. Njoki McElroy, director of the production, began the narratives with a haunting recount of her life growing up in Dallas when the Klu Klux Klan had an office on Akard Street in downtown Dallas. She relayed stories of what is now Uptown that use to house all black neighborhoods. One of the few things remaining as a relic to those days is the Freedman’s Memorial Cemetery and memories of elders like Dr. McElroy.
Donald Payton, a jovial older black man, shared stories of living in Dallas during the Vietnam War. “I didn’t feel like I should go way to Vietnam to fight for freedom over there when I wasn’t getting freedom over here,” Mr. Payton pointedly said. Dallas isn’t talked about in the civil rights movement and it could be because of the actions from the black church leaders. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr came to Dallas to speak, it said that he was greeted at Love Field airport by prominent leaders in the black church. It was there he was encouraged to “only preach the gospel.” No protesting and no organizing. “Dallas takes care of its own.”
Two of the seven storytellers were white women who shared stories of inherent prejudice, ignorance and awakening. Dana Proulx-Willis conveyed an innocent yet charged recount of her time as a student at Booker T Washington High School for the Visual and Performing Arts in the 1980s. She would hear black students greeting each other with the “N word” and wondered why she couldn’t do the same. She decided to address a black friend with the greeting she’d heard others use. She quickly yet graciously was given a lesson in the history of the word and who could and who could not use it.
Rounding out the seven speakers was a name that wasn’t familiar to most audience members but his story subject was, Botham Jean. Jeremy Bonner was a friend and co-laborer in the Church of Christ music ministry with Botham. Donning a “Be Like Bo” shirt, Jeremy talked candidly about the night that Botham was shot in his own apartment. He shared a story of the aftermath of the senseless killing on Botham’s family, friends and the world. He reminded us that the media may have tried to paint a negative picture of who Botham was but he knew the real person who had a kind word and helping hand for humankind. Jeremy wanted everyone to share their love and kindness with the world “like Bo.”
The evening ended with black and white singers joining in unity to sing “What the World Needs Now is Love,” with the lyrics “What the world needs now is love, sweet love/That’s the only thing that we have too little of.” Almost 154 years after the formal end of slavery, Dallas and the world still has open wounds of racism and oppression that have yet to heal. Maybe this open address and the several more to come at libraries across the city will be the ointment that starts the healing process. We could only hope.
» The readings will also take place at the following Dallas Public Libraries on Saturday afternoons in June. They are free; with no RSVP required.
- 2 p.m. Saturday, June 1: Bachman Lake Branch, 9480 Webb Chapel Road
- 2 p.m. Saturday, June 8: Pleasant Grove Branch, 7310 Lake June Road
- 2 p.m. Saturday, June 15: Hampton-Illinois Library Blackbox Theatre, 2951 S. Hampton Road
- 2 p.m. Saturday, June 22: Fretz Park Branch, 6990 Belt Line Road