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Black Arts and Culture

Memphis Theatre Hosting Programs For 400th African Arrival Ann’y

By Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell
Special to The New Tri-State Defender

“Some talked about the 400 years we’ve been here in America, and now, we really are here,” said Ekundayo Bandele, founder of the Hattiloo Technical Theatre Center. “It has been 400 years since the first enslaved Africans came to the New World – in 1619. This is our time for remembering how far we’ve come. This year is our quadricentennial.”

The Hattiloo is commemorating the African-American experience in “Lest We Forget,” an eight-month-long commemoration, from January to August. Each month, an interactive event is planned to reflect “the Black Experience” in America. The first event was a Jan. 28 screening of the Academy Award-winning epic “12 Years A Slave.”

“I want these scheduled events to reflect and celebrate our people, our culture, and our remembrances,” said Bandele.

“I talked to many of my friends across the country who lead cultural ventures, and they won’t be observing the quadricentennial,” But this is a big deal. The Bible talks about 400 years of bondage, and then deliverance would come. Jews make that connection as they suffered slavery in Egypt. This is our 400-year mark. It’s definitely a big deal.”

Bandele has uniquely directed each event to cover some aspect of African-American past. Two films, “12 Years A Slave” and “Sankofa,” both take a painful look back into the degradation and indignities suffered by those enslaved.

“The Lay-In is going to be powerful,” said Bandele. “We will lie on the floor, shoulder-to-shoulder to connect with the experience of being packed in like animals on a slave ship. As the connection is made to the Middle Passage – the stench, the death, the horror – there will be tears. That pain still runs so deep within our people. There will be tears as we cry for our foreparents who had to endure it. The Lay-In will call up all of those emotions. Everyone is invited to take part, not just Black people. It is a part of our American experience.”

Hattiloo is the only freestanding Black repertory theatre in five surrounding states and is known for offering high-quality, free programming and performances staged throughout the city, engaging over 5,000 people each year.

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