The African-American community is a sacred place, but it’s not a secret space.
This is what has inspired Rhode Island author and director Ricardo Pitts-Wiley to use stories, poetry and music to highlight the delicate and dangerous terrain that African-American men must navigate in their daily life. It is a life that is full of music, love and laughter set against a backdrop of daily struggles for survival, and it is a life that Pitts-Wiley wants to share with the Community College of Rhode Island.
Pitts-Wiley, in partnership with the CCRI Office of Student Life and the Newport County NAACP, will present “REFLECTIONS: Growing up a Black Man in America.” The free public event is scheduled at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 2, at CCRI’s Newport County Campus. The event is part of CCRI’s celebration of Black History Month but was rescheduled from a February date because of inclement weather.
The live performance features five black men of various ages talking about their lives, hopes, fears and the living experiences that have shaped their lives and influenced American history and culture.
“This is about a slice of the American cultural experience that opens up windows of opportunity for constructive conversation about our culture, about the American culture,” Pitts-Wiley said. “It’s not limited to race. It’s not limited to gender. It’s about the living experience everyone is trying to enjoy.”
The play examines aspects of what black men need to do to survive and stay focused, Pitts-Wiley said. While the reality has its lows, Pitts-Wiley said, it also has undeniable highs. “Reflections” charts a journey from the perils of boyhood to the tribulations of adulthood.
“You can live in a situation but if you give into the negative part of the experience you will kill yourself before anyone else does. You need to find a way to hold on to your humanity. You have to find time to laugh,” he said.
“Reflections” debuted in 2015 and since has been performed at venues across Rhode Island. The play, which Pitts-Wiley wrote, captures his belief in the power of the theatre to inspire and correspond to what is happening in the world.
The opportunity to perform at CCRI, which has the state’s most diverse higher education community, is an exciting one.
“The theater tells people what they already know,” he said. “It’s also about being willing to pull back the blanket of ignorance and saying, ‘I may not change your mind or attitude, but I can change the idea that you didn’t know.’”
In 2000, Pitts-Wiley and his wife, Bernadet, formed Mixed Magic Theatre & Cultural Events, a nonprofit arts organization dedicated to presenting a diversity of cultural and ethnic images and ideas on the stage.
The event is a continuation of CCRI’s engagement in the community, said Robyn Greene, coordinator of CCRI’s Newport County Campus.
“We are very active in the community and value our community partnerships,” she said. “When these relationships lead to hosting events like this, I think it sends a valuable message.”