“The Black Lives Matter” Experience

On Feb. 20, Florence Roach and the Ettaro Theater Company of Memphis, Tenn., presented their original play, “Black Lives Matter,” as a part of the 17th annual Civil Rights Conference.

The play was an account of historical men and women who made an impact on the progression of African-American lives and how they helped build America.

The play touches on a variety of topics, including slavery, religion, the civil rights movement bringing awareness against social injustice, violence and ongoing systemic racism towards African-Americans. This play also shed light on innovative African-Americans contributions that are often taken for granted like traffic lights, home security video systems and the American Aerospace program.

The play started out with the Three Alpha Men (Jason Andrews, Marcus Willems and Emilio Walls) preforming a dance called, “step” while chanting, “191906.”

The program then transitioned into a performance that addressed the underground railroad. This brought up how allies to the cause had helped the progression of the underground railroad. This was to illustrate that there are allies for the cause who are willing to help abolish slavery and to get people to a safer location.

The accounts were those of African-American men and women who have made large strides towards equality like Ida B. Wells, Rosa Parks, Baxter Leech, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Florence Theater Company brought special guest Baxter Leech, who took part in the 1968 strikes. Baxter talked about his account of the strikes, and went into detail about how cruel and unreasonable political situations were during the 1960’s.

Following the railroad scene, the play went into a surprising route and talked about religion. The discussion was how God would accept anyone no matter what, and the church was a place that anyone could go to find community. Florence’s inspirations for ‘Black Lives Matter” were based on the teachings of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and how African-Americans should hold a deep respect for themselves.

The Alpha men ended with a step calling out each member’s name and major, and ending with the mantra “Our lives matter, and so do yours.”

“I am so happy that the University of Tennessee at Martin hosts this conference every year. I think it is a very valuable conference. This isn’t just for African-Americans, this is for everybody. Civil rights isn’t about black people, civil rights is about everybody,” commented Florence.

Florence Roach and the Ettaro Theater Company have been rehearsing the play for over a month with a cast of seven people. The theatre group performs three times a year: summer, fall and spring. Florence Roach wears several hats with the group as the playwright, director and producer of the plays.

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