As people embraced the idea of in-person gatherings again, Green Acre continued a series of events focusing on the arts and the African Diaspora, entitled The Pupil of the Eye. The series was inspired by a concept in the Bahá’í teachings comparing African Americans to the ‘pupil of the eye’ through which the ‘light of the spirit shineth forth.’ A unique historical experience of hardship and suffering has endowed African Americans with insights into the human condition that many others fail to see. The Pupil of the Eye series showcased dance, music, theater, and poetry with meaningful dialogue integrated into each event. The arts have a critical role in stimulating reflection on the day’s issues and have the capacity to inspire hope and connect us to creative ways to solve problems and build community.
A live band led by Stu Dias recreated Marvin Gaye’s groundbreaking album What’s Going On, followed by a profound discussion. The album was released in 1971, at the height of the Vietnam War, and yet the themes were startlingly relevant to today’s challenges and evoked a sense of how much progress still clearly needs to be made.
One week later, Green Acre collaborated with the Seacoast African American Cultural Center for Black Man Poetry. Juxtaposing the work of renowned poets such as Amiri Baraka, James Baldwin, and Robert Hayden with offerings by local poets Khaalid Hart, Michael Cameron Ward, and Jarrett Daniel immersed the audience in the depth of the Black male experience. “Every word of poetry is indeed like unto a mirror…” a sentiment from the Bahá’í Writings was clearly evinced in the authenticity of the poets’ expression and audience reflection.
Initiation- In Love Solidarity, a choreographic narrative exploring the Middle Passage and the transformative resilience of women in the African Diaspora, was presented by dancer, choreographer, and scholar Nailah Randall-Bellinger. Using dance, film, and spoken word journal entries, the piece is themed on “reidentifying who we are on our own terms,” according to Randall-Bellinger. This theme of reclamation infused the work, as film clips featured women dancing along the coast of Maine, where slave ships would have docked in the 18th century.
An evening with Midnight BBQ was an immersive swing jazz experience interspersed with anecdotes about the history of this truly American music with African roots. Whatever is in the spirit, melody moves and awakens, and this concert and conversation brought the audience to their feet and elevated their awareness.
In Kittery, Maine, the Dance Hall hosted Rhapsody In Black, a concert of the score from the upcoming musical of the same name about African American musical prodigy Hazel Scott produced by Theater for the People. Scott became a Bahá’í late in life and was a champion of racial justice and equality, refusing to play for segregated audiences.
Concluding the series was a one-act play written and directed by Najee Brown, Nevaeh’s Brother, exploring themes of black identity and incarceration, and digs deep into the inner thoughts and feelings of a black man experiencing the effects of an unjust social system, and reflects the strength of a black woman navigating through that same system.
The performance was followed by an interactive conversation about race in America and the issues that surround it, with a focus on the oneness of humanity. Moderated by Green Acre’s Frank Robinson, the actors, Elizabeth Hylton as Nevaeh, and LaRon Hudson, and playwright were joined by Tanisha Johnson, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Seacoast Chapter, and Chief Elliott Moya of the Eliot Police Department.
The Pupil of the Eye series brought a diverse, often young audience to Green Acre, many for the first time, and strengthened essential collaborations in the greater Seacoast community. It is clear that immersion in the arts, which centers on people, stories, and authentic voices from the African diaspora, is a portal to needed conversations on race unity and is truly a light of the spirit.