“In most Black, brown, and marginalized communities, we’re taught that to vocalize the things that oppress us is to be ungrateful.
Growing up, a very close family member suffered mental health ailments in addition to substance abuse. I was exposed to a lot of trauma. That was my normal. Mentally, I didn’t perceive the trauma as something wrong or unhealthy, but the feelings that began to transpire within me didn't feel right.
Even though I didn’t know how to identify or articulate those feelings, I knew that something was wrong in our home — but being transparent in my family was a big no-no. I was taught that if things “are” then they just “are", and you be quiet about it, and you go to school and do what you need to do as a student."
"So, I went to school. And at school, I’d hear from other kids about taking family trips to the park, or going to grandma’s house. I was fascinated by those stories — I didn’t do anything like that.
I’d go home and pose a question to my parents like “Why don’t we go to the park?” but I always felt like I was offending them or being ungrateful, so I learned to just keep my mouth shut.
When I was 9, I went to my sister’s theater rehearsal, and a lightbulb went off in my head. I needed to do that. If I could disguise everything I was feeling in my real life and channel it through a creative outlet, perhaps I’d be more accepted.
Theater helped me to see that I could find governance over my situation in a creative way. It gave me the ability to turn the reality I was living in off and on.
By the time I was 12 or 13, the authorities were being called every other day to my home. I’d always have to make up excuses to my friends as to why I wasn’t able to do sleepovers, or homework after school — just basic things that kids do together.
I started creating lies as to why I couldn’t let my friends in … It went deeper than not letting them literally into my physical home. I couldn’t let them into my true reality. Keeping up with all of the lies was exhausting, but I felt that I needed to protect my family. A
Around 16-years-old was when I started to feel like I was abusing theater. It grew more and more as a tool of suppression for myself.
At that time, I had an amazing director at the Baltimore School for the Arts named Donald Hicken. He was a phenomenal person. He had this remarkable ability to see through the bullshit and help me, human to human.
It wasn’t easy for me to work with him at first. I had been conditioned to think that I’d be let down if I let someone get too close to me, but it was because of how Donald pushed me that I realized I had to learn who I was outside of this persona I had created. I was a master at imitating and becoming other people, and it overshadowed me.
I really struggled with depression over the next few years. I had so many trust issues, but in order to evolve as a person I had to face the truth of who I had become.
Those years were extremely difficult. I thought a lot about how important it is for kids to be raised with proper life skills, so that they might not have to go through the type of identity crisis and depression that I went through.
Now, and for the last two and a half years, I work with kids from the community who probably would have never considered stepping foot on stage. My practice uses theater-based strategies to ignite self-awareness in children. The goal is to teach them how to coexist within a space of other people and to have the confidence to express their feelings honestly and openly.
I have no regrets, of course. My experiences created the path to where I am today.”