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Students Learn About a Piece of Black History in The Meeting

March 8, 2013 08:45 AM
Forest Park, IL...Students, faculty and the community in Proviso Township High Schools District 209 got an education about civil rights icons, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, February 19 to 21. The event culminated with a performance of The Meeting, a one-act play about a fictional meeting between the two leaders.
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The performance of The Meeting was the culmination of three days of workshops about the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, as part of District 209’s celebration of Black History Month. Starring noted actors Kevin McIlvaine as Malcolm X and Edward D. Richardson as King, The Meeting is a one-act play set in 1965 in Malcolm’s hotel room in Harlem. The duo debated about how to achieve racial harmony, with King advocating peaceful resistance, and Malcolm pushing for economic independence, human rights, unity and solidarity.

During the three days, McIlvaine and Richardson held theater workshops in which they auditioned students for the role of Malcolm X’s bodyguard, Rashad (or Rasheeda if a girl was selected for the part), and performed vignettes from the play. That role eventually went to A.J. Williams, a senior at Proviso Math and Science Academy who won the role in a heart-filled audition on February 19. A.J., 17, has acted professionally, including a run on a national touring performance of The Color Purple and later in Porgy and Bess. He said that The Meeting had an "amazing script" and that the director and other actors helped him adapt to the role easily in two days.

"It was definitely an experience," A.J. said. "I could tell Rashad was sincere even though he was military-like. But he still had a soft side. There was a lot I had to learn about that character, but the director and the other actors made it easy."

McIlvaine said that he was hopeful that the students and those who attended the performance of The Meeting came away with a sense of how much the two civil rights icons had in common.

"You show the compassion of two men who are in a struggle and coming at it from two angles," McIlvaine said. "As you see the interaction, you see two men who are family men and have more in common than they realize."

Richardson said that he hoped that viewers of the play were inspired to serve their communities, especially in light of growing social ills such as gangs and violence.

"This generation is always talking about having not found its niche," he said. "If you don’t support your backyard, if you don’t support your own foundation, you can’t grow. The looking at community and protecting community has gone."

Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart, superintendent of District 209, said that she also was hopeful that students and others came away with a sense of serving the community.

"The community is where everything begins for us, and we have to work to make it grow," she said. "Learning about the past in ways such as this play and learning particularly about black history is necessary for us to grow and move forward in a positive manner."

Dr. Roudell Kirkwood, principal at Proviso West High School, developed the idea behind hosting the performance. He said that the legacy of King and Malcolm X lives on with notable moments such as the election of the first African-American President, Barack Obama.

"As we know, these two individuals didn’t live a full life," Dr. Kirkwood said. "But we know that that’s not where the story ends. What we have witnessed over the last eight years, we may never see again. Anything is possible."


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