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Local News in Virginia

Part Two – Va. Beach Africana Area Poet, Actor Among Presenters To Perform

By Rosaland Tyler

Associate Editor

New Journal and Guide

Nathan Richardson, a Suffolk poet and writer, will not just tell you about Frederick Douglas while ocean waves cascade and fall in the background at the third annual Virginia Beach Africana.

Richardson will show you how the past connects to the future by breathing new life into Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey who was born a slave in Talbot County, Md. around 1818. This means when you see Richardson in the white wig he bought at a costume shop in Ghent, wearing Douglass’ trademark bowtie and vest, well, perhaps you will connect the dots at Virginia Beach Africana, a three-day beach party that will be held Aug. 28-30 on Atlantic Avenue.

“I have been doing this character for 18 months,” said Richardson who began depicting Douglass in February. “My understanding of Frederick Douglass is still growing.”

Now that he has portrayed the famous abolitionist about 10 times in all four of Portsmouth’s public libraries and in a few churches this past year, to audiences ranging from five to 150, he plans to continue after Virginia Beach Africana wraps up. His schedule is online and it includes future performances at the 2015 BNV Festival in Atlanta Aug-20-25. In September, he will perform in Staunton, Va.

In fact, he is booked up until 2016 when he will perform at Louisa County Cultural Arts Center near Charlottesville. For booking information, please visit

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This means the project which started while he brainstormed with a fellow storyteller is gaining traction. After considering several historical figures he chose Douglass because the runaway slave, writer, abolitionist and orator still brings the roots of racism sharply into focus.

“I can look back and see the repercussions – of what happens when we only scratch at the surface of an issue like we are doing with the Confederate flag, for example,” Richardson said. “I mean so much lies at the roots. And if you don’t pull up the roots it will re-sprout.”

Richardson is convinced talks on racism, are like peeling through layers of an onion. Both produce a fresh wave of tears and a flood of anxieties. And it is too early to measure the full impact of his performances after he launched the first one at Smithfield Little Theatre in full dress.

“It has given me a deeper understanding of the abolitionist movement and how it changed politics,” Richardson said. “Any controversy people see in Frederick Douglass in the 21st century is based on their comparison in this century. In other words, they are comparing (racism in) this century to the 19th century.”

“But racism in the 21st century is more complex,” he said. “Racism is more indirect. Basically you have a class that is benefitting from racism and slavery so it is not as overt as it was in the 19th century.”

To strip away layers of complexities, Richardson holds a short Q & A session after each performance.

Read entire story at the New Journal and Guide, July 30- August 5.

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