During this last year the Black community has experienced a great deal: the murders of African Americans due to police brutality; a pandemic shutting down our lives; in-school learning; cancelling traditional plans like family holiday gatherings; people losing their jobs due to COVID; shutdowns of businesses; hundreds of thousands of people dying; healthcare workers being pushed to the brink; too many other scenarios to name. We all have stories to tell. Telling our story can bring release and a sense of community, as we find that there are many who share what we’ve experienced, and it can help us to try to figure out how, as a Black community, we can improve our situation in this society. Writing is a great release and whoever you are, whatever your story is, actor/director/playwright/educator/activist Regina Taylor is asking you to share your story in her ongoing project called “the black album mixtape.”
Taylor recently sat down with the AmNews and talked about the importance of this very vital project. An in-depth Q&A follows.
AmNews: Why did you feel the need to do “the black album mixtape”?
RT: It came out of what was going on in this world in 2020, COVID-19—things were interrupted because we had to stop and go inside and quarantine and try to figure out how to connect. It was not just happening here, it was happening globally. A lot of people felt that they were sitting in the dark and they were alone. And I wanted to create this response that we need to continue to reach out. We’re shoved onto these devices [technology]—how do we make it adapt? I wanted people to realize we are all going through this together whether in New York City, Dallas, Texas or Nigeria. I don’t know of any time like this. It is not the time to be silent. It’s time to have these central conversations, gather and move forward together. We need to discuss George Floyd and the other killings in our community.
In 2020 I started talking to Southern Methodist University and I was talking to them about how to teach there and create in a pandemic. I knew that the African American students would be understanding. I wrote ‘the black album. 2020. resistance.” We did it and presented it online in 2020. We turned over the issues to students, faculty and the community in Dallas. The line of connection started connecting people across the country. It received participation from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Genesis Women’s shelter, Howard University, Spellman University and included people of all ages. There is a common ground. Community, lay people are encouraged to give their voice to think about how we got here. To create outcomes for tomorrow. It is a passion that I’m involved in to have people speak across the board whether they are artists, in the medical field, to create something about taking care of people with COVID and look at the issue of why people of color are suspicious of COVID-19 shots? How are we surviving through this time? How people are being laid off, people are in the hospital and we can’t be there with them. What is your connection to this time? What have you had to let go, what expectations you had to let go, what took its place, how are we adapting to this? The shifts are monumental at this moment. As African Americans what does that mean in terms of our identity? We have a legacy of surviving and thriving during hard times and know that we will survive. We have to have that conversation to let people know what the possibilities are. STEM—technology, we are in the midst of letting go of buildings and working from home. We need to know the technology. Those who are teaching programming, gamers are welcome to speak out on “the black album mixtape.” At the end of the school year we will be giving awards, under age of 21, over the age of 22, to do with arts, activism and technology.
AmNews: How important is it for our people to come to grips with how we are unjustly treated in this country and how the pandemic has happened simultaneously with a reckoning in every industry in this country, especially in the arts?
RT: This is at once a slam in terms of challenging survival strategies at this moment; at the same time it is opening up doors and ways of possibilities and we are seeing it across the board. We’re talking about content. I find it very interesting at this moment in time there is a resonance in Black voices in the arts. They are everywhere and you’re seeing it across the board from people writing to producing, to managing their own companies. There seems to be an explosion and that’s really interesting at this moment. Things are also shutting down and people are struggling in terms of keeping jobs. There is an opportunity to shift, as long as we make it a part of the daily conversation around strategy in how we move forward. How we learn from history and do things different to have better outcomes. That has to do with that which we see in terms of industry and what is shaping images. That is about learning how to adapt.
AmNews: You are an actor/director/playwright/educator and activist, so you know the power of expressing yourself. What do you feel when you write?
RT: I’ve been writing my whole life, I can’t remember not writing. As a child my mother had me write children’s books to create my own narrative. That was very empowering. How can you get there? It starts with your own imagination, to then work hard at a plan, a strategy. All of that went into writing, a very useful survival tool. The act of creativity goes across all the fields. In this moment I am begging to let people know we are here, it is about people across the board sharing their voices. What they’re going through.
AmNews: You have asked for submissions from performers and the public to share videos, audio, text or images to respond to the question “After 2020, who are we?” You’ve already been doing “the black album” with members from SMU and gotten reactions to that question—what were some of the thoughts that were shared?
RT: It was very overwhelming how people accepted and appreciated the work. I was very proud of the students, who were very talented and brave and amazing. They had never done anything like this before and they jumped into it bringing their authentic selves to the work. Some had never done a Black play or worked with a Black director and the piece is unapologetically Black. The piece has so many layers and encompasses every race, gender, so it runs the gamut. It has all the layers, the philosophies, the emotions. It was enthusiastically greeted and it was a wonderful launching point. To have people give their voices to what they’re experiencing and to share so we get these quick flashes of this moment in time.
AmNews: The program will culminate on May 11 with a virtual block party across the country, with case awards for outstanding submission—what would its elements be?
RT: It is to speak of where you are. It is to think about how we got here to this moment and how you imagine our future with better outcomes in any field to give voice to your experience to incite conversations that are necessary.
AmNews: Please talk about the two virtual conversations coming up on April 16 and what viewers can expect. April 27 registration is available for another livestream, “Food for Thought,” which examines the inequities and racism exposed during the pandemic and its impact on the arts. Is this project through these discussions happening to not only expose what people are experiencing daily, but also to help chart a roadmap towards healing?
RT: Yes, where do we find common ground. Our country is so violent and fractured. Where is the common ground, can we heal and have a reconciliation? We do have to speak on it, it’s not to squash, it’s not to swipe under the rug, we have to deal with it, not hide it. That’s a positive step forward if we can be on one accord with that. When one is empowered to speak the secrets, to speak the pain, a lot of times we’re taught to stifle it and that troubles our blood, mind and body. I encourage people to speak the truth of your existence out loud, and let another person be encouraged by your words or challenged by your words, perhaps creating a shift. The events in April are roundtables that are coming up, dinners around arts, activism, technology, change. I’m just very excited about people taking part and sharing their work on this platform. The importance of “the black album mixtape” is to shine the light on the injustices, and the challenges, to shine some light to share, to connect people, to help people grow. To let them know this is a moment, but hold on, there are others with you. That’s the message in people sharing their words, dreams, their hopes on this platform. It has been a most challenging year personally for me in so many ways, and at the same time I have been encouraged by this work, to be of service. This work is purpose driven, it is something I am moved to do. And I am deeply honored by the response when I do connect.
To have your voice heard, record, and see other ways to submit your thoughts, visit: www.smu.edu/News/2021/Featured-News/Invitation-to-the-Black-Album