In all its forms, The Color Purple is a powerful account of generational trauma in the Black community. The novel by Alice Walker was published in 1982 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 before being adapted into a movie by Steven Spielberg starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey. In 2005, the musical version opened on Broadway starring LaChanze with a book by Marsha Norman and a score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray. Ten years later, the musical came back to Broadway in a 2015 revival and won the Tony for Best Revival of a Musical.
Actor Isaiah Johnson, who played the role of Mister in the original Broadway cast of the 2015 revival production, opposite Cynthia Erivo, joins us to discuss the musical as we look at the character of Mister and generational trauma. What does it mean to carry the trauma of your ancestors? How does this type of trauma affect people, specifically Black Americans? What tools are there to heal this trauma for those experiencing it? And how can non Black people support Black healing? Experts Curtis Smith, Cymone Fuller, and Dr. Schekeva Hall weigh in, as well.
Create the Change
- Begin or deepen your mindfulness practice (resources from Moment of Mindfulness here)
- Seek out a therapist with cultural competency training
- Search Therapy for Black Girls, Psychology Today, Alma, etc.
- Consider a restorative justice process to heal pain and trauma in lieu of punitive justice
- For members of the Black community:
- Build relationships and unify Black people
- Check out the youth organization Jack and Jill of America or any of the 10 on this list
- Discover the Black Feminist Project
- Tell your truths, your stories, express yourself
- For members of non-Black communities: LISTEN.
- Read Dr. Yael Danieli’s book International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma
- Find more research on generational trauma via the International Center for Multigenerational Legacies of Trauma
- Read “Breaking the Chains of Generational Trauma”
- Learn more about generational trauma
- Explore the work of Dr. Joy DeGruy
Referred to in this episode
- Michaela Angela Davis
- Clips from the Schomburg Center Color Purple panel
- “Lynching Memorial” aka The National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama
- What is generational trauma?
- What is mindfulness?
- Moment of Mindfulness LLC
- What is restorative justice?
- Impact Justice
- Statistic: Children of Holocaust survivors over-represented 300 percent
- Generational Trauma in Indigenous communities and its impact
About Our Guests:
Ruthie Fierberg, Host
IG: @whywetheater / T: @whywetheater
IG: @ruthiefierceberg / T: @RuthiesATrain
Isaiah Johnson, actor and acting professor
Actor Isaiah Johnson made his Broadway debut in The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino in 2010. Since then, he has been seen back on the Main Stem in Peter and the Starcatcher, Sideshow, and as Mister in the 2015 revival of The Color Purple. He also played the role of George Washington in the national tour of Hamilton. You may recognize him as Sky on HBOMax’s David Makes Man or Benny on Netflix’s Florida Man. He is a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design and the founder of The Freedom School of Creative Development. Follow him @isaiahslament.
Cymone Fuller, Director of Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice
A co-director of the Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice, Cymone Fuller leads the expansion of pre-charge restorative justice diversion programs across the country. She began her career by addressing the school-to-prison pipeline in her home state of Minnesota, where she helped develop the “Solutions Not Suspensions” campaign at the Minnesota Education Equity Program. Her work brought together students, families, and school administrators to analyze the disproportionate push-out of youth of color, advocate for the revision of school discipline codes, and explore opportunities to bring best practices like restorative justice into Minnesota schools. She then joined the Vera Institute of Justice in New York where she focused on systemic reforms in the youth criminal legal system. Cymone worked to enhance family and youth partnership to guide reform efforts in jurisdictions across the country. She also supported sites looking to reduce the use of incarceration for young people through a gender and racial equity lens. After four years, Cymone joined Columbia University’s Justice Lab, where she led partnerships with sites across the country to eliminate the use of incarceration for youth and elevate strategies to invest in community-driven justice alternatives. Outside of her work with Impact Justice, Cymone is an adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and serves as an executive board member of the Stonewall Community Foundation. Cymone holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and social justice from the University of Minnesota and a master’s degree in public administration from New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. @ImpactJustice
Curtis Smith, founder of Moment of Mindfulness
A Detroit native turned Brooklynite, and now Los Angeles transplant, Curtis Smith found his calling in education after beginning his career in tech sales. He created Moment of Mindfulness LLC (MOM), a mindfulness methodology and company committed to empowering communities to activate their best intentions through culturally responsive and evidence-based mindfulness tools. In 2013, he co-founded one of the top-rated public middle schools in Brooklyn, New York, and developed a successful school-wide mindfulness program. Since then he’s had the opportunity to design and lead mindfulness programming and workshops for District 19 in the New York City Department of Education and their chapter of Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance. With my groundbreaking methodology, he’s transformed lives in over 33 NYC Public schools with the use of music, movement, art, and writing to activate the science-based benefits of mindfulness.
He partners with the NYC Department of Education, hosting district-wide mindfulness sessions and providing Zoom engagement workshops to their leadership teams. Recently, he began leading mindfulness programming for Atlanta’s, Dekalb County School District and is the Mindfulness Content Lead at Alkeme Health, a Founding Educator at Roundglass, and a Mindfulness Coach at Wellness Coach. He is grateful to do “work” that he is passionate about.
Dr. Schekeva Hall, Ph.D., CGP, CPT
Schekeva (Keva) Hall is a New York State licensed clinical psychologist, antiracist culture advocate, lifestyle wellness coach, and a certified personal trainer, who specializes in health and wellness. She believes optimal health is integrative and intentionally uses mental, physical, and social aspects of health, including important cultural learning from one’s race, ethnicity, and gender, to assist clients with leveraging self-awareness, confidence, and connectedness with “self” and others. Schekeva specifically offers Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training experiences that foster a community approach to both learning and healing. Her DEI trainings help participants connect with others and their surroundings to support their mental clarity, compassion, and self-actualization. She has practiced clinically for over 15 years, in education, community mental health, interdisciplinary medicine, mental health start-ups, and private practice. In these spaces, she has taught, trained and supervised students and staff on racial and cultural learning as an integral part of clinical theory for work with clients. She currently contributes culturally, clinically and socially relevant news to various media resources including, Vice Media, Refinery29, The New York Times, etc. Schekeva received her doctorate training in counseling and clinical psychology at Columbia University, her group psychotherapy certification (CGP), from American Group Psychotherapy Association (AGPA), and her personal training certification from the National Association of Sport Medicine (NASM-CPT).
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