By Sam P.K. Collins
A group of young people from around the world recently showcased their theatrical prowess during a virtual children’s play that commemorated International Day of the African Child and paid homage to the anti-colonial figures of modern-day Guinea and Ghana.
The play, titled “Ready for the Revolution,” chronicled the collective efforts of Ahmed Sékou Touré, M’Balia Camara and others to free Guinea from French colonial rule during the late 1950s. These revolutionary figures accomplished their mission by establishing an independent political party and arming the entire nation.
As Guinea’s first post-colonial president, Toure later commissioned a ballet about Guinea’s independence movement. On July 2nd, the children of Mass Emphasis Children’s HIstory and Theater Company kept that tradition alive in a production currently making rounds in Cuba and Burkina Faso.
Oludae Byrd, an artist who portrayed Touré, expressed his appreciation for Mass Emphasis Children’s History Education and Navigational Institute where, over the last few months, he learned about Guinea’s revolution and other Pan-African moments and figures. He said those lessons highlighted the power of teamwork in shifting paradigms.
“No one person made history by themselves. There were people who contributed, even if we don’t hear about them,” said Oludae, a 15-year-old from Hollywood, Florida, who has participated in Mass Emphasis for years.
Under the tutelage of playwright-journalist-educator Obi Egbuna Jr., Oludae and others gain a holistic understanding of Pan-African history, particularly how seemingly isolated figures influenced each other and contributed to a common cause. The youth also perform plays written by Egbuna as a show of their understanding of these connections. .
“This history class was different because it takes a much more practical view of African history,” Oludae said.
“The play puts what happened in the format of a story. Stories are effective tools for learning [because] it’s much more interesting than telling someone something in a textbook.”
“Ready for the Revolution” takes its title from a phone greeting often said by one-time Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chairman and Pan-Africanist Kwame Ture. The play commemorated Ahmed Sékou Touré’s 100th birth anniversary and the 50-year anniversary of Ghanaian Pan-African figure Kwame Nkrumah’s death. Other ancestors Egbuna acknowledged included Hasinatu Camara, a District educator and Pan-African organizer who worked with Kwame Ture.
Preparation for the play took more than a month. The young people, hailing from the U.S., Canada, Trinidad, Liberia, Burkina Faso and Columbia. wore costumes, practiced and recorded their monologues that were combined for the showcase on July 2nd. Participants in “Ready for Revolution” acknowledged International Day of the African Child, a commemoration of the Soweto uprisings, spurred by South African youths’ fervor to speak their indigenous language in colonial schools during the 1970s.
For more than a decade, Mass Emphasis Children’s History and Theater Company has made productions about a bevy of African figures, including Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara, Malcolm X, Congo Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, Franz Fanon, Harriet Tubman and Mozambique President Samora Machel. They’ve done so in partnership with Sankofa Homeschool Collective, Zimbabwe Cuba Friendship Association, the Thomas Sankara Centre in Burkina Faso, among others.
This past spring, Trinidadian youth ÅbSenSaS-ankh Rabanu caught a glimpse of how history and the arts can merge to a young person’s benefit. Her parents enrolled her in Mass Emphasis after catching Egbuna’s interview on Pan-African Daily TV. In “Ready for Revolution,” ÅbSenSaS-ankh led a march scene and recited a poem by M’Balia Camara.
“It took eight hours to practice,” said ÅbSenSaS-ankh, an 11-year-old from San Fernando, Trinidad & Tobago.
“I never repeated scripted things but learning a poem was something big. I listened to the tape a thousand times. In this class, I met people from Canada and the United States. It’s important that we know we are special and we have a rich and strong culture with different traditions and spiritualities.”