By Diane Van Dyke
The Walnut Street Theatre performers brought history to life on the stage in Boyertown Junior High West's auditorium during three performances of "Martin and Malcolm: How Long Must We Wait?" on Feb. 23.
The Boyertown Area School District hosted the show as part of the ongoing effort to be a "No Place for Hate" school district. Prior to the morning performance, the Anti-Defamation League of Philadelphia re-certified Jr. High West as a "No Place for Hate" school.
Students viewed the educational outreach program during the morning. Sixth-grade elementary students of all seven elementary schools saw the program in the afternoon. During the evening, more than 300 people attended the public performance.
The Walnut Street Theatre cast - Christina May, Erik Ransom, Conrad Ricamora and Ally Smith - presented the philosophies, experiences and accomplishments of two civil rights leaders: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
The performers' historical account of events during the 1950s and 60s was infused with vignettes confronting racism and injustice.
At one point during the performance, they captured and focused the audience's attention on a day in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Rosa Parks refused to comply when she was asked to give up her seat on a bus because she was black.
"I won't be humiliated over something I have no control over - the color of my skin," declared Rosa, after she was told that a white woman didn't have a seat.
As the scene faded, the cast broke out singing the spiritual song, "We shall overcome, we shall overcome, some day."
In similar fashion, the cast performed scenes depicting incidents of racial profiling, stereotyping, affirmative action and the deaths of Martin, Malcolm and Robert Kennedy.
Each scene left the audience hanging with the incompleteness of King and Malcolm X's legacies - dreams unfulfilled to this day.
The actors sang about Louisiana:
They tried to wash us away. ... They told us to evacuate two days before, but with no car and no place to go, what were we supposed to do? They told us to go to the the convention center.... We had no food or water for four days. Grandma did not have her medicine ... she died. There were dead bodies all over. This was not a dream, this was a nightmare.
Although the dream is unfulfilled, the performers ended with a message of hope.
"We shall overcome, we shall overcome. Some day."
Junior High West students responded with a standing ovation.
"It was really great, a great play," ninth-grader Janelle Tim said.
"The audience was intrigued and were really listening," teacher's aide June Laxton said.
"I found the show to be thought-provoking, educational and entertaining," Principal Greg Galtere said.
"This was the first time we got a standing ovation," actor Erik Ransom said. "It's validating coming into schools and having students understand the message."
"It is astonishing how much people don't know about history," actress Ally Smith said. "The show is a catalyst for questions in the classroom."
uContact assistant editor Diane Van Dyke at 610-367-6041, ext. 228 or