Celebrating Black Joy Through the Arts

The creative team behind the show We Move in Color joins in conversation and performance with Tufts artists

The show We Move in Color, a musical revue of the Black American narrative that premiered at the Strand Theatre in Boston, is a blend of music, dance, visual art, and poetry. On October 4, the acclaimed artists and writers behind it shared a stage with Tufts University performers as they traced the evolution of the show, talked about their creative journeys, and celebrated Black artistry.

The event, held at the Jackson Lab on the Medford/Somerville campus, featured step-dancing from Envy, Tufts’ all-female step team; a call-and-response poetry session; and a modern-dance performance by Pearl Young, AG22. Dubbed We Move: Black Joy at Tufts, the evening also featured a panel on art and creativity with School of Arts and Sciences faculty member Kelli Morgan, director of curatorial studies, and Maurice Parent, a professor of the practice in theater, dance, and performance.

Envy, the Tufts all-female step dance team

Members of Envy, the all-female step dance team, performed.

Reverend Liz Walker, former WBZ-TV news anchor and the first Black host of a nightly newscast in Boston, provided inspiring introductory words via pre-recorded video.

“We are a people who have borne the burden of inequity. We must have our own stories,” Walker said. “Through the era of Jim Crow into the era of George Floyd, we bear the burden of global inequity of grief.”

“But… we have a resilience of an extraordinary spiritual origin… Our creativity is healing, because it helps us connect with all the parts of who we are. And that is how we restore wholeness, in individuals and in communities.”

Tufts Africana Center Director Katrina Moore then spoke with the creative team behind the production: producer Wyatt Jackson, writer and executive producer Robby Thomas, scenic designer Paul Goodnight, and photographer Lou Jones.

We Move in Color tells a story from “pre-colonial Africa through the epochs of the middle passage, the struggles and triumphs of modern America” and on through a digital future, according to its website.

In explaining the work, along with his creative process, Jackson launched, with extraordinary energy, into an interactive poem and tap dance titled, “Chugging.”

“Repeat after me,” he said. “Organize your story. Organize your work. And do it with a positive mental attitude.” He likened his percussive steps to the hopeful sounds of a fast-moving train traveling from Mississippi to opportunity-filled Chicago.

Faculty panelists Lily Mengesha, Kelli Morgan, and Maurice Parent

Faculty panelists Lily Mengesha, Kelli Morgan, and Maurice Parent discussed art and the creative process.

When the conversation turned to visual design, Goodnight described his own path and the speech impediment that led him to art. “I started drawing unconsciously,” he said. “Because really, you draw from your imagination. That’s where real creativity comes from, the asleep version of yourself… And I realized that my voice was at the end of my hand. Without a voice, you don’t have a choice.”

“You have to find your own voice and make it work for you,” Goodnight said.

During questions from the audience, a student asked for advice on how best to approach perhaps the most frustrating challenge artists face: What happens when you don’t like your work?

Jackson responded heartily. “There are no mistakes,” he said. “There are only mistakes that turn into lessons. Think about that as you go into the studio. You're working on something, it’s not clicking. Don't worry. Take on the growth mindset which says, ‘Learn from it, be open to what you just did.’”

Sensing that the subject called for more, the Emmy-winning performer continued. “Just get to the studio, man, and keep iterating. Believe it or not, you will become everything that you believe you're supposed to be. The mistakes will turn into blessings. And when you look at your work, you'll say, ‘I'm glad I kept coming to the studio.’”

“That's it,” Jackson said. “Just keep showing up. And keep showing up, and keep showing up, and keep showing up.”

Wyatt Jackson, Lou Jones, Paul Goodnight, Robby Thomas, and Katrina Moore,

Wyatt Jackson performed a tap routine as fellow "We Move in Color" creators Lou Jones, Paul Goodnight, and Robby Thomas, joined by African Center Director Katrina Moore, looked on.

The night closed with Young, founder of the Harlem Grooves dance company, performing to Eryn Allen Kane’s soulful debut, “Have Mercy.”

“When I count all my blessings, blessings, I can’t even be sad anymore,” Kane could be heard crooning as Young moved gracefully across the bare floor.

With each liquid step the dancer took to the song’s outro (“We try and we try and we try…”) the crowd cheered, until there was only stillness and cheering.

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