The concept of “teen-ager” only became part of the public consciousness in post-WW II times. Prior to that, there was little consideration that young people, ages 13-18 merited any kind of special attention, nor were they thought to have needs that deserved unique consideration. As time has passed since the false “idyllic” 50s, at least in the US, being a teen-ager has become more and more fraught with complexity and challenges: The fracturing of the family, the onset of readily available drugs, the pummeling of negative news, the raising of the nuclear doomsday axe. Multiply those challenges exponentially by adding the challenges young Black teens face in a culture where they are viewed as defacto suspects, and we can only imagine the maze of obstacles they must navigate to reach adulthood intact.
Fortunately, as we face a strenuous workout in the empathy gym with the teens in The Great Khan, we are blessed to be in the company of Michael Gene Sullivan, who in addition to his great skills as an actor and playwright, has both been and raised a young black teen. Generously offering his gracious hand, he leads us though that dangerous world. More commonly than not these days, teens are being raised by a single parent, or being shuttled between serial single parents, who have their hands full making ends meet, and who operate in nuclear families, where there are few extended family or cultural systems in place to support them, fewer churches, youth programs, community organizations.
Luckily, from Michael’s fertile imagination, springs a male mentor to fill the void in young Jayden’s life. In a bolt of imagination, Genghis Khan, who was in his youth himself oppressed and imprisoned for being “other,” who has for centuries been the maligned victim of Asian stereotyping, and yet who triumphed against impossible odds to become a compassionate leader to his people, appears through the magic of theatre to guide Jayden towards a more illuminated future. And we, blessed to be along for the ride are reminded how essential is mentoring, how criminal are the racist fictions generated by our white-centric distortion of history, and how courageous and honorable are the struggles of our young teens of color as they navigate their way through the “mindfields “we have laid in their path.
– Artistic Director
Wera V. W.
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