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Twin Cities Daily Planet: Addressing slavery through drama and dialogue

TWIN CITIES DAILY PLANET

In honor of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his struggle for racial justice, the first act of the play Tap the Leopard will be performed as a reading at the Minneapolis Urban League on January 27. The captivating play depicts former slaves taking an emotional and physical journey between America and Africa.

The theme of Africans’ journeys will continue after the play in a panel discussion featuring Rep. Keith Ellison and representatives from the Urban League and the Liberian community. The panel will discuss the issue of Liberians living in the United States under Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Tap the Leopard will be performed on Sunday, January 27 from 2:00 to 4:30 pm at the Minneapolis Urban League, 2100 Plymouth Avenue North. Admission is free and refreshments will be served. For more information, call the Urban League (612-302-3100) or Jewish Community Action (651-632-2184; ask for Vic Rosenthal).

Tap the Leopard was written by playwright Kia Corthron, an African-American whose work has been recognized and produced across the country. She lives and works in New York City. In March 2004, her play Snapshot Silhouettes was produced at the Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis.

In the first act of Tap the Leopard, we first meet Lika as a young slave girl in Atlanta in 1824 and we see the harsh brutality and violence her family endures at the hands of the slave master. Sixteen years later in Washington, D.C., Lika is a house slave to a family that “treats her respectably,” and she silently absorbs an education. When Lika meets Augustus, a handsome freed slave, she debates whether or not she should seek freedom and join the movement to return to Africa.

The production is part of the Jewish Community Action’s ongoing work on immigrant rights, specifically with the Liberian community and their partnership in a joint project with the National Council of Jewish Women and the Minneapolis Urban League, bringing together the African-American and African immigrant communities. The partnership is working for legislation that will allow many of those Liberians under TPS to adjust their immigration status—thus granting them the opportunity to continue living in the United States as permanent residents.

There are over 25,000 Liberians, many of them under TPS, living in Minnesota. TPS was first offered to Liberians in 1991 due to dangerous conditions in Liberia resulting from a fourteen-year civil war. Last October, TPS was extended for Liberians until March 2009. The government is presently considering whether or not TPS is necessary given the politically stable condition of Liberia today.

Vic Rosenthal, Executive Director of Jewish Community Action (JCA), says this play will serve to educate people who may not know much about this piece of African-American history. He also indicated that he is excited that the three organizations have joined together for this project.

The JCA’s stated mission is to bring together Jewish people from diverse traditions and perspectives to promote understanding and take action on social and economic justice issues in Minnesota. Rosenthal adds that part of their mission also is to build broader coalitions.

The Minneapolis Urban League’s mission is to provide human services and advocacy that will enable African-Americans and other minority group members residing in the metropolitan area to cultivate and develop their individual and group potential.

The National Council of Jewish Women works through a program of research, education, advocacy and community service to improve the quality of life for women, children and families, and it strives to ensure individual rights for all.

“I hope this event will get a diverse coalition of people, individuals as well as other organizations, excited,” says Rosenthal. “I hope that they will want to work together around pursuing permanent residency status for the Liberians under TPS.”

Jennifer Holder (jyholder@msn.com) contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet and the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

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