School of Music, Dance and Theatre to celebrate Black history, theater in Arizona

As Black History Month approaches, faculty at Arizona State University’s School of Music, Dance and Theatre are hoping to engage the community in in a discussion about Black history – and theater – in Arizona through an upcoming event.

“There is a tendency not to acknowledge that there’s a Black community here,” said Rachel Finley, assistant professor in the school and co-coordinator of the event. “I think it’s really important to raise awareness about the history of civil rights in Arizona. There are things happening right now that are part of a civil rights movement.”

The State of Black Liberation in Arizona: Where We Were Then and Where We Are Now” will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 20, in the Galvin Playhouse on the Tempe campus.

The event will feature the Rev. Warren H. Stewart Sr. as the keynote speaker.

Stewart has been the senior pastor at First Institutional Baptist Church (FIBC) in Phoenix for more than 45 years and was an instrumental activist in the push for Arizona to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He is nationally and internationally known for his writing, advocacy and commitment to community. Last fall, Stewart was honored by the Phoenix City Council with the naming of 12th and Jefferson Streets near FIBC as “Dr. Warren H. Stewart Sr. Way.”

Stewart’s address will be followed by a panel discussion with Black community leaders Kiana Sears, Brian Hardaway, Iisha Graves, Miriam Araya, ASU Assistant Professor of African and African American studies Aaron Mallory and Crystal Blackwell.

The Jan. 20 event will also feature selections from James Ijames’ play “Kill Move Paradise,” which tells the story of four Black men stuck in a waiting room for the afterlife, presented by ASU students and directed by Finley. (ASU Theatre will present the full play beginning March 31.)

“It showcases the joy and the beauty of our culture — what’s fun and funny alongside the difficulties and the tragedy,” said Finley. “It’s a play that emphasizes the often overlooked humanity of Black men.”

“ASU’s program highlights Black theater and Black issues,” added Dontá McGilvery, an ASU PhD in theater for youth and community alum (2001) and co-coordinator and moderator of the event. “The community can learn how theater plays a role in the issues that we grapple with and that we experience.”

“The State of Black Liberation in Arizona: Where We Were Then and Where We Are Now” is free and open to the public. Reservations are recommended.

Lacy Chaffee