Over the weekend, we had an opportunity to watch the presentation of Sweet Jenn at the Matthews Playhouse. The one-set exhibit was impressively performed, created, and directed by Lakeetha Blakeney.
Before the presentation , I had a chance to meet Lakeetha and ask her about the inspiration behind the exhibit. It was incredible to hear the depths of time she spent delving into biographies and researching six specific former slaves and weaving them into one complex character, whom we meet on stage.
As curtain rises, we meet Sweet Jenn, as her mom use to call her, who is a slave in the south before Emancipation. As a mother, my heart broke as she was torn away from her own mother at age 10. And soon after, at age 13, she started bearing child after child, each taken away and sold soon after birth. Sweet Jenn never had the chance to share life with her children, but she tells each before they go that she is always with them.
A heart breaking tale that turns triumphant. In spite of horrible conditions, there are glimpses of hope:
After a brutal physical encounter, we revisit a character that we had met earlier when Jenn was first sold—her friend named Pearl. As Jenn lay waiting to die, Pearl visits and reminds her of who she is. Jenn is a fighter with a resilient spirit that has purpose to live. After months of physical healing, Jenn gets back to life with vigor.
When serving daily food rations, a young man calls Jenn “my lady”, which confounds her as she has never been called a lady. But soon, she too is enchanted by this gentleman named Charles.
And in time, she takes in an orphan slave as her own - Jenn finally has a sweet daughter to love.
Love always prevails to grow even in the worst conditions.
Lakeetha delivered a beautiful tapestry that is poignant, thought-provoking, and brilliantly woven story in which laughter, hope, and love win.
The actual tale is true. The message is lasting: we must remember that slavery still occurs today.
I adore that Matthews Playhouse and the Town of Matthews partnered to present this powerful presentation. In these perilous times with racial tension from various fronts, it is critical to keep these stories in front of us. Conversations that provoke questions is how we can identify slavery and prevent history from repeating itself.
Debbie Chopas is a mamaprenuer, cold-coffee drinker and fan of all things Matthews. Find Debbie and her husband on Saturday mornings running their coffee shop Good Cup Coffee, and keep up with her adventures around town @goodcupcoffee_co.