- “Every 28 Hours” in Oxford, Ohio: Preaching to the Choir—Recognizing the Communal Need to Engage in Difficult Dialogues about Race
I want you to know and remember Christopher Evin Clapp. Affectionately known as Chris—a beloved brother, friend, and son—who on August 1st, in my hometown of Baltimore City, was shot by an off-duty police officer moonlighting as a security guard in a local grocery store (Lewis). Something happens to you when you personally know the name and face of those lost—senselessly lost to some combination of fear, unresolved racial tensions, and state machinations that imagine difference and diversity as malignant growths (Callier). Chris should still be here. Like Emmett—and Mike and Aiyana and Sandra and Korryn and Mya Hall—they should all still be here and, yet they are not.
I begin here with this sacred practice of remembering and naming those who are no longer here because of its connection to “The Every 28 Hours Plays” (Brown). Its final scene, Nikkole Salter’s “Unknown Thousands,” does this, concluding with: “Who else?! Who else?! . . . Will it stop? Will we stop it? Will This Ever Fucking Stop?” Where the series of one-minute plays end, I begin. Chris is a part of the “who else,” and by naming those who are no longer here, remembering them through our art and activism creates important opportunities for building and strengthening community. This is what we discovered in our October 22, 2016 production of The Every 28 Hours Plays at Miami University.
Reflecting on that event, I write now, three years after the shooting death of Mike Brown. A day where another Mamie Till Mobley in the form of Lesley McSpadden manifested. Unlike her predecessor Mobley, who declared, “Let the people see what I see,” McSpadden stated at the scene of the crime: “All I want them to do is pick up my baby” (Rankine). Recently, white supremacists held a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. The torch-wielding, violent crowds were not met with officers wearing riot gear nor by the usage of dogs, hoses, or tanks. I mention here, Ferguson 2014, Charlottesville 2017, and by extension Mississippi and Chicago 1955, to establish a historic context—a context underscoring who gets to mourn, be mourned, rightly protest, assemble without the accompaniment of militarized police and excessive state force, and demand rights in the face of injustice.
That was a part of why we were gathered that night: to remember those no longer with us due to racism and police brutality. But we also needed to talk about racism and police brutality, especially in a Midwestern college town like ours. Oxford, Ohio, as a college town is simultaneously a space of racial, ethnic, and xenophobic tensions and a historic site for racial progress and resistance as the training grounds for Freedom Summer 1964 (Armstrong 202). The series of one-minute plays were crucial in our ability to foster meaningful discussion about these issues, allowing our post-performance dialogue to be grounded in a communal witnessing, shared history, and a series of case examples providing important contexts for understanding the complexity of racism in the United States.
Along with my colleagues and Mobilizing Anger Collective co-organizers, Dominique Hill, Stephen Quaye, and Mahauganee Shaw, I took to the stage at the top of the show to prime the audience for engaging in dialogue afterward. Dominique led the audience through a series of meditative [End Page 167] exercises. Inhaling and exhaling in unison with a loud sigh, we—all 250 audience members and eighty-six actors—started the night in a communal act, being present with one another. As the audience digested the last scene described above, I, along with my fellow co-facilitators, returned to the stage. Sensing the energy in the room, Dominique and Mahauganee invited the audience to repeat the meditative breathing exercises from before. Checking in through eye contact, we moved forward with our plan to break up the large audience assembled into several smaller groups, to be facilitated by ourselves and another ten faculty, staff, and graduate and undergraduate students. We asked each of the facilitators to make themselves known, and then to...