by Jamie Keaton
Audre Lorde once said: “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
I recently went to see “The Black Card Project,” a show created by Akron-based dancer Dominic Moore-Dunson in collaboration with Kevin Parker. At first look, I didn’t know what I was walking into, because there is a lot of cultural significance to the idea of having and earning your Black card as a Black person. I came in with curiosity. As I bought my ticket and sat in the Akron Civic Theatre, I waited anxiously to see what the fuss was.
When this show started, so many thoughts and feelings came to my head. For example, during the first scene, when I saw Artie Alvin Beatty III, I saw myself — a Black kid with no cares in the world, an imagination and an inner space that I made my own.
The synopsis of the show goes like this: Artie Alvin Beatty III is a homeschooled kid living in his own world. But his mother feels he lacks awareness of his Blackness, so she sends him to Booker T. Malcolm Luther Parks Academy of Absolute Blackness, which will supposedly teach him about his cultural identity so that he can earn his “Black Card.” As a Black person, mine was a similar journey: I had to figure out my cultural identity and my place in the Black community.
As the show continues, Artie is taken through different cultural identities that exist within the community. For example, Artie’s first visit is to Dr. Moore, who listens to his heartbeat and finds a lack of rhythm. So he takes Artie through the traditions of popular black music — from Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin to LL Cool J and NWA to Tupac and Biggie — looking at the heart of our culture via our music.
Another cultural identity in the production is C. T. Payne, the figure that represents “thug life,” showcasing us as the victims of our circumstances and coming out of it victorious. In the scene, Artie is tormented by C. T. Payne until he eventually fights back.
In these two examples, I saw my experience. My Black identity was wrapped in music, and it became something that I resonated with and celebrated. The feeling of being a victim of one’s circumstances also resonated with me,whether through being in impoverished neighborhoods of people that looked like me or going places where “thug” was synonymous to black skin and identity.
This production also shows us the pain of our history, the generational trauma that has shaped us to this day. One scene shows Artie reading a textbook and looking at the horrors of slavery, the Jim Crow era, lynchings, the fight for civil rights and present-day police brutality. Artie goes to sleep and these horrors invade his dreams. This was powerful because, in learning our history, these horrors are something that will always be in the forefront of our dreams — and when we wake up, we do feel alone in the trauma of our community.
“The Black Card Project” highlights the realities of Blackness and the many facets within it. This has made me laugh, cry and celebrate all at the same time. This is what our Blackness looks like: It takes many forms, and you can be one form or all, because Blackness is not a monolith. Blackness is something that has been beautifully created, is tragic in many ways, and is celebrated to this day — but this is exactly what “The Black Card Project” showcases.
Marcus Garvey once said: “The Black skin is not a badge of shame, but rather a glorious symbol of national greatness.”
Editor’s Note: Dominic Moore-Dunson, creator of “The Black Card Project,” is a co-owner of The Devil Strip and a member of our Board of Directors. The writer pitched this story independently of Dominic’s appointment to the board, and Dominic did not see the story before publication.
“My momma used to say, if you can’t find something to live for, you best find something to die for” – Tupac Shakur. Jamie is a spoken word poet, activist, musician, actor and much more.
Photo: Nathan Rogers