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Quick and Dirty

Talking the Talk

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 10/6/2004

Bridge of Ages will be performed at Morgan State University’s Murphy Fine Arts Center Oct. 11 through 14. For more information call (443) 885-3625.

Actor/comedian Bill Cosby caused a national stir with the statements he made about black youth during a 50th anniversary commemoration of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in May. “They’re standing on the corner and they can’t speak English,” Cosby told the audience at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. “I can’t even talk the way these people talk: ‘Why you ain’t,’ ‘Where you is.’”

Now a local university theater group has prepared a response to Cosby’s controversial remarks and is planning to air it in a spoken-word performance.

“Cosby made a good point, but he wasn’t the best person to get the point across to youth,” says Shirley Basfield Dunlap, coordinator of theater arts for Morgan State University. Dunlap and her students, together with spoken-word artists in residence in the program and members of Baltimore spoken-word group the 5th Element, have developed Bridge of Ages: An Original Spoken Word Theatre Production. In addition to Cosby’s comments, the Morgan State production was inspired by Illinois senatorial candidate Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention in July, in which he stated that “children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”

Dunlap’s students have put together a production that, according to press materials, addresses the issues of race, community, language, and more. One of the issues raised in the production, for example, explores the reasons many African-American kids use Ebonics.

“In some [Baltimore] neighborhoods, if you don’t walk or talk like you’re rough and ready, you’re going to be under threat,” Dunlap says. “So, Bill Cosby, when you make that statement you need to realize that sometimes a young person doesn’t have a choice. And there are some of us who can move our students out of those neighborhoods, and there are some of us who can’t.”

Dunlap says she hopes Bridge of Ages will help bridge the gap of understanding and communication between young people and adults so that solutions to the problems facing black youth can be found. Dunlap says the program also hopes to raise consciousness of young people themselves. “We need to work on finding positive solutions for our young people that will help them look beyond the stuff they think is cool in terms of language and dress, and getting quick money in order to raise their ethical standards,” she says.

Further, the students participating in Bridge of Ages hope to eradicate another common misconception about black youth. “We use the street corner as a part of their set to show that not every youth standing on the corner is there because they want to be, or using the word ‘bling-bling,’” Dunlap concludes.

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