Sheri Parks, Storyteller
SHERI PARKS, UMD Professor of American Studies
At first, I was not even looking. I was just a little kid at her teenaged sister’s school performance, playing with some toy in my lap, when I felt the air go still. It was 1968, the end of segregated education in Asheville, North Carolina. My sister’s class would soon move from their all-black school to the much bigger, all-city white school, leaving behind a safe and caring community to go to a place that did not want them.
‘There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us …
Wait for us, somewhere.’
The eyes of my fierce big sister shone bright with fear as she and her friends faced the audience, holding hands tightly as they sang Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics to Leonard Bernstein’s music from West Side Story.
‘We’ll find a new way of living, we’ll find a way of forgiving, somewhere.
…Hold my hand and we’re halfway there, hold my hand and I’ll take you there.
Somehow, someday, somewhere.’
I understood, down to my bones, how the stage allowed them to say what they would not be allowed to say any other way. Every performance I see is still filtered through that first, fundamental lesson of the voice-giving power of the stage.