by Jayden Lawrence
1619: The Journey of a People was a captivating experience hosted by a Chicago native group. This musical transcended entertainment by holding itself to a higher standard and ended up being an emotional rollercoaster that delved into the dark history of America that we continue to unravel in 2024.
Coming from Jamaican roots, I’d never wanted to draw parallels between my history and that of people in America. However, this musical presented struggles that communities who resemble me have been fighting for generations, therefore forcing me to see myself in these barbaric places of history.
The narrative unfolded through pivotal historical periods such as the Reconstruction Era, the Harlem Renaissance, the 1960s civil rights movement, and the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement. Woven into this historical fabric were highlights of the monumental contributions of the African-American community, underscored by a musical score featuring hip-hop, jazz, blues, and the resonating beats of West African drumming and spirituals. While carrying a serious tone, the musical also transformed into a celebration of culture at various well-executed points.
A grand intellectual clash between Booker T. Washington and W.B. Du Bois added a thought-provoking layer to the narrative. This clash prompted the audience to reflect on historical perspectives, recognizing their respective relevance in the complex tapestry of our world today. Should we be content with working harder than others and defying expectations or should we compete to equalize the world in which we live?
What stood out from the entirety of the musical was the seamless integration of choreography, humor, emotional appeal, and education. The production didn’t just entertain; it captivated the audience from start to finish. I vividly recall a scene where vibrant dresses resembled human-sized butterflies, gracefully frolicking on stage with a double dance scene that exuded a peaceful aura. Shannon Stiles, in particular, left her mark with passion in her portrayal of an African-American woman in America.
Stiles showcased the emotional distress of being an African-American woman, asking us and herself questions like, “Am I an American?” and “Are we really free?” Past the questions, she integrates into an emotional scene where vulnerability was laid bare, singing a heart-wrenching song about genuinely being tired of being a woman of color. Why is there a stigma based on how much “black blood” is in your body?
The emotional impact of 1619 struck me profoundly. It skillfully balanced tear-jerking moments with a celebration of the incredible accomplishments of the African-American community. The crew masterfully crafted a performance that resonates on a deeply human level.
Beyond being a show, 1619 emerged as a cultural celebration, shedding light on the richness of African-American history. As 1619: The Journey of a People arrives at Kennedy King College on February 16th and 17th, I won’t be missing the opportunity to be part of this African-American history. Ultimately, I left the theatre with a new appreciation for the arts and hope for my future.