On Wednesday, Feb. 15, Bellevue City Hall collaborated with Living Voices, a program with the goal of bringing life to history. “Using historical perspectives based on real people and events,” their website shares, “Living Voices combines live performance with audio/video, visual aids and discussion. Archival film and photos, blended with sound and synchronized with a live actor, provide a dynamic, interactive experience of how the world looked, sounded and felt during a significant time in history.”
Before the performance began, multiple Bellevue City Hall councilmembers — such as Deputy Mayor Jared Nieuwenhuis, Janice Zahn, Conrad Lee and Jeremy Barksdale — spoke about their perspective of growing up during times of segregation and the continuous need for growth and change regarding racial equality. Their talks reinforced the first line of the City Council Vision: “Our diversity is our strength. We embrace the future while respecting our past.”
The event’s performance was “The Right to Dream,” one of 12 shows offered by Living Voices. This rendition of “The Right to Dream” followed one performer taking on the role of Ruby, a young girl in the 1960s living in the South, as she fights racism, promotes equality through gaining the right to vote and begins her involvement with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
Being the daughter of a soldier and a nurse, Ruby comes to understand that being a person of color in America automatically makes one a soldier. “It was like going into combat,” she shares. While Ruby lives to see the March on Washington and Martin Luther King Junior’s speech, she also experiences seeing her friend Michael get acid thrown into his eyes, which results in his blindness, and her once childhood friend conforming to racial stereotypes as a white individual. “Reverend King has a dream, but in Mississippi, we hardly sleep,” she states. After attending a rally, her cousin Tony — a character inspired by Senator John Lewis — ends up hospitalized, and her father is found in a river, killed by a clan (presumably the Ku Klux Klan). However, Ruby reflects that his spirit and beliefs did not die along with him. “There’s no time to mourn death during war,” she shared earlier when recounting the death of Malcolm X.
The character Ruby — and the other characters in her life — are not real individuals, but rather a collection and combination of activists during the period of the Civil Rights Movement. She was strong-willed, determined, sensitive and kind. She was greatly impacted by the suffering that surrounded her and that she herself endured. Motivated to create a better life for Black Americans, she wanted to spark change through legislation. While we don’t follow her entire life, we see the strong nature of the girl who desired to rise in governmental ranks to change the systemic racism that led to the pain and death of her loved ones. “I made a vow a long time ago not to stay silent,” she reveals near the conclusion. “I’m keeping that promise. […] I refuse to die.”
As the event was coming to a close, the Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Linda Whitehead shared, “We have a right. We have a reason. We have a responsibility.”
The performance was impactful, influential and innovative. A key component of the performance was the corresponding background video that provided imagery, videos, additional voices and sound effects that enhanced the already stunning performance of the actress. This multi-media performance takes students away from the pages of a textbook and allows them to see these monumental historical events as they were. The last parting words of the actress were as follows: “It’s time for things to change in the world. I’m doing what I can. What are you doing?”
To learn more about “The Right to Dream,” watch this trailer. To donate to Living Voices, follow this link.
Song used: “Evergreen” by Richy Mitch and The Coal Miners