In honor of Black History Month, Pensacola State College presents a production of two short plays about some of the most well-known figures in the fight for freedom and equal rights for blacks.
The evening features a one-woman performance of Harriet, about former slave and abolitionist Harriett Tubman. Also, there will be a one-man performance of MLK and Mandela.
Lawrence Gamell, Jr. is acting and directing.
“Harriet is written by Kisha Kenyatta,” said Gamell, in reference to the play about Tubman, referred to as ‘Grandma Moses.' The play, which he performed a few years ago, takes place from Tubman's birth in 1822 to being a teen and through the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.
Gamell says the play also chronicles Tubman’s marriage and what inspired her to seek freedom, “which was really her husband saying she couldn’t be free and she’s like ‘forget that,’ so she left; and how she came back for her relatives and got everyone and showed other slaves how to get to freedom.”
“Well you’ll walk away with something that you did not know about Harriet,” said Jessica McMillan, who portrays Harriet.
McMillan says she appreciates the part of the play that depicts Tubman as a young woman; being hired out as a slave for the first time. “She’s away from her family and you really get to see how she evolves into this strong woman and those skills that she picked up that will later on come in handy for when she’s out there rescuing the slaves.”
Gamell, with narrator Josephine Mayo, is also performing MLK and Mandela about American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela, an anti-apartheid activist who became the first black President of South Africa.
“It’s just capturing as much as I can their most famous speeches that brought them to where they’re supposed to be. Then, I put in different historic figures like Malcolm X and Bobby Kennedy,” said Gamell, who notes that former President Barack Obama will also make an appearance.
This production of MLK and Mandela is the evolution of material Gamell and Mayo have performed before. “We’ll let you know through Jo when they were born, what their accomplishments were. And, then she says ‘well take us to the Mountaintop, or take us to “I Have a Dream” or for Nelson Mandela, we need to tell us this speech,” explained Gamell, who favors King’s “Mountain Top” speech, which was delivered shortly before his assassination in 1968.
Narrator Mayo was moved by the section of the play that focuses on Nelson Mandela.
“Because I have such awe and respect for him because he went through so much and still came out to be such a wonderful, positive human being despite all the horrors that he’d experienced and lived through,” said Mayo, who will also sing a couple of Negro spirituals.
The production of the short plays MLK and Mandela and Harriet is being presented by the PSC Black History Month/Multicultural Committee as part of the college’s celebration of Black History Month.
Actor/director Gamell says his hope for the evening is simple.
“I just want them to enjoy the show. And, I want them to be inspired to learn more about history and about black history, and also just be inspired to share that with others.”
The performance is this Saturday evening at 7:00 at the Ashmore Fine Arts Auditorium. There is no charge for admission.