CLEVELAND — A group of local artists are continuing the global conversation about social justice Saturday by taking a look at Cleveland’s own social justice history and exploring the struggles many still face today. It’s all a part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s Station Hope event.
Station Hope is in its 7th year, but like many events that draw large crowds, CPT had to adjust this year’s event because of COVID-19. So all performances are being live streamed online from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday. However, CPT staff are sticking with tradition and are still broadcasting from St. John’s Episcopal Church, where its been held every year since it started.
St. John’s is Cleveland's first authenticated Underground Railroad site. It was the last stop for enslaved people before crossing Lake Erie to freedom.
Station Hope includes performances from dozens of artists covering modern struggles for freedom and equity. Topics include immigration, education, police brutality, human trafficking, gun violence, income inequality, racism, and gender discrimination —alongside historically based original works that celebrate the people and stories comprising Northeast Ohio’s Underground Railroad history.
“Cleveland Public Theatre’s mission is to nurture compassion and raise consciousness through groundbreaking performances and life-changing education programs, and especially right now, there's no better time for art, for art is essential,” Beth Wood, a co-line producer for Station Hope and associate artistic director of CPT, said. “And art is what helps us feel and be empathetic and activates us and activates our heart because when our heart feels something, then all of a sudden we feel that in our body, and we feel that in our mind, and we're ready to go out.”
Organizers say the performances allow artists to use their art as an entryway to having those tough conversations.
“It’s so inspiring to see the work created by these artists. Because what it does is it ignites this hope for our future and ignites our personal responsibility to change and to be active in the world we want to live in,” Wood said.
Local actor, vocalist, and educator Nicole Sumlin says it's all the more important now in light of the ongoing movement against racial injustice to have a message of hope and a sense of community to fight against unjust systems.
“It's so important to hear from the community especially because we can't gather. We have to continue to fight to find ways to connect with each other and encourage each other in the work that we're all doing,” Sumlin said.
She along with her husband and their two children are performing a mix of storytelling and music about their family’s history called Beauty for Ashes. It is described as a family’s migration from the South to the North that echoes the journey of enslaved people on the Underground Railroad – told through folk songs, gospel music, scripture, & significant quotes.
“We feel that it's very, very important to use Black joy as a form of resistance and part of the joy that we found in communicating this to our children, was looking in our own family's history to see the pain and the struggle but also the celebrating of the triumphs and the strengths and the accomplishments of our family,” Sumlin said.
Information on how to stream Station Hope can be found on Cleveland Public Theatre’s website.
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