Anguished immigrants huddle together in the pit of a slave ship making its way to the United States. It’s a small but disturbing example of how diversity was created in this country.
Six performers involved in the InterACT Teen-to-Teen Theatre group will act out this scene and many others Thursday in an effort to portray the lives of immigrants in the United States. The group will perform the original production, “The Promised Land … Harmony in Diversity,” at the Columbia Values Diversity Celebration.
The celebration is the unofficial kickoff of Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrations in Columbia, said Georgalu Swoboda, chairwoman of the Columbia Values Diversity Planning Committee. Martin Luther King Jr. Day is nationally recognized on Monday.
Every year, the celebration focuses on a different element of diversity. This year’s theme is immigration. Thursday’s performance will share the stories of immigrants, such as African slaves, who came to the United States. The performance is inspired by information gathered by members of Teen-to-Teen Theatre, which is sponsored by Parks and Recreation CARE programs. The teens interviewed immigrants about their experiences coming to Columbia from around the world.
Jaleesa Carter-Jackmon, 16, was among the four teenagers who conducted the interviews. Cater-Jackmon said they used contacts through school friends and other people they knew in the community to locate immigrants in Columbia.
“We asked questions like, ‘Do you consider yourself an American?’ and ‘How did you feel coming to America?’” Cater-Jackmon said.
Mark and Shauna Kelty of Columbia compiled the interviews and other historical information into a 20-minute, six-person play. The performance will include monologues and ad-libs that tell the life stories of Columbia immigrants. It will also include singing, dancing and a slide show with photographs of immigrants and King. Three of the six performers are from different countries.
“(Immigration) is a huge part of the Columbia experience,” Mark Kelty said. “What we have here in Columbia is a population that represents the entire world.”
The idea to do a performance about immigration was inspired by King’s fight against poverty that disproportionately affects immigrants, Kelty said.
“It takes a lot of guts to come to this country,” Mark Kelty said.
Along with the production, the celebration includes breakfast and the presentation of the Columbia Diversity Awards.
“Basically, we honor one individual and one group who represent the teachings of Dr. King,” Swoboda said.
Anyone in the community can be nominated, and the winners are determined by a committee representing the business, faith, health, social service and education communities in Columbia.
“Part of (King’s) teachings were peace and justice, and our programs are based on peace and justice,” Swoboda said.