Stories of racism in Seattle told on stage | KUOW News and Information

Stories of racism in Seattle told on stage

Oct 18, 2016

In September 2014, Patrisse Khan-Cullors was still bowled over by the recent police shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Brown's death pushed Khan-Cullors and two fellow activists to start the Black Lives Matter grassroots movement. Khan-Cullors herself is credited with conceiving #blacklivesmatter.

A month later, she arrived for an artist residency at Kalamazoo College in Michigan with this swirling in her brain.

"What was clear to me were the stories of so many black people who had been impacted by state violence," she says.

Khan-Cullors solicited those stories and created a performance. She called it "Power: From the Mouths of the Occupied."

Black Lives Matter national co-founder Patrisse Khan Cullors
Credit photo by Inye Wokoma, courtesy Intiman Theatre

The response, from the audience and the participants, was overwhelming. So Khan-Cullors recreated the experience in her hometown, Los Angeles.

Now she's working with Intiman Theatre and artist C. Davida Ingram to produce a Seattle version of the production.

Ingram recruited nine local people who have experienced state-sanctioned violence. Their stories span incarceration, public school violence and police intimidation.

The participants first gathered several weeks ago for an introductory dinner. They weren't certain what the process would entail, or if they were willing to share their personal stories in public.

Luzviminda Uzere Carpenter, also known as Lulu Nation
Credit photo by Inye Wokoma, courtesy Intiman Theatre

Luzviminda Uzere Carpenter, also known as Lulu Nation, had done some performance art, but never any theater. She worked with Khan-Cullors to shape the story of an encounter with a police officer, after Nation had called 9-1-1 for help with a stalled car. She wound up facing an angry cop with a gun.

"That feeling sits in my bones every time I'm in front of a cop," she says. "I have to remain calm so they're not scared of me when they have a gun."

"When you've been black in America and have been told over and over your story is not valuable, what you get is a group of people that is grateful to tell their stories," Khan-Cullors says.

Monique Franklin, one of the story tellers in Power: From the Mouths of the Occupied
Credit photo by Inye Wokoma, courtesy Intiman Theatre

"I can literally go to any part of the country, pick a crop of black people, and they will have similar stories," she says. 

Power: From the Mouths of the Occupied participant aKT
Credit photo by Inye Wokoma, courtesy Intiman Theatre

"The first time I heard about anti-blackness, I was like, 'Oh, it's not just people of color!'" Nation says. 

"What I ask my performers to do is not 'perform'; I want them to share their story, I want them to be authentic," Khan-Cullors says.

Musician Yirim Seck is having what he calls "a moment." Seck is writing and performing songs about his identity as a Senegalese/African-American Seattle native. "Power: From the Mouths of the Occupied" gives him a chance to share his story with another audience.

It won't be a typical theater experience.

"I'm hoping people will just bear witness, to acknowledge that this happened," says Nation. "That we don't have to be silent and hold this inside our bodies, that violence against black people is real."

"Power: From the Mouths of the Occupied" will be at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute in Seattle's Central District October 20-22.