“Back to Black” event brings theatre back to Dumas Center

Theatre – from left: Kayla and Cheriece Davis perform along with Bernadette ‘BJ’ Lark in a scene from “Back to Black” held at the Dumas Center, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. – Photos by S. Hale

by S. Rotan Hale

Now that the hiatus caused by the corona-virus seems to subside, to some degree, life and the pleasure of group activities slowly return. This in part explains the sizable crowd at the Dumas Center Aug. 28 for the production of Bernadette Brown’s “Back to Black.”

Written and directed by Bernadette, ‘BJ’ Lark, the 3-hour show featured a play after which several local citizens of considerable notoriety were acknowledged for their respective contributions to “Black Arts and Culture.” Those honored were: Amazetta Anderson, Angela Dillon, Shirley Eley, Archie Freeman, Rev. Dr. David Jones and Anita Wilson. Outside of the slated honorees was Jordan Bell and family who were in attendance. Bell was recognized for his work in support of the Historic Gainsboro Neighborhood.

Bernadette Lark performs one of several soul stirring selections.

The play was billed as a “spotlight on Black excellence” through music, visual arts, education, theater, dance and more. The event’s efforts to “empower, energize, educate and entertain most effectively made the mark. Much of the play centered on several individuals interacting in a hair salon. There were also powerful vocals from Brown herself, Rose Nemo and others who sang inspiring selections throughout the entire program.

Kayla Davis

In accordance with the show’s theme the play was layered with historical references and mentioned the Claytors, a prominent local family and Tribune publisher Claudia Whitworth as well as other notable families and individuals.

In her dual role Amazetta Anderson served as one of the show’s speakers and was among those recognized for her work as an educator, youth development enthusiast and community activist. As an advocate for those under-served, Anderson co-founded Tenants Building Bridges, Inc., an organization that links tenants to resources.

Trumpeter Angeleisha Rodgers blows passionately in the production of “Back to Black” held at the Dumas Center.

Backing the show musically was a quartet led by music director DeRon Lark who along with the group accompanied Angeleisha Rodgers (of New York) in her performance of several moving selections on trumpet. Rodgers’ has an impressive list of credits listing performances with such notables as Janelle Monáe, Ledisi, Billy Taylor, Branford Marsalis and a host of other high profile musicians and settings.

Among the honorees was Angela Dillon, owner/operator, NuGenesis Hair Salon. In addition to being a hairstylist Dillon is known, not just by her clients but by many who will attest to her encouraging spirit and deep faith that has led her as she presently pursues a Bachelors of Biblical Studies. The Columbus, GA native moved to the area in 2007 and is a mentor who offers apprenticeships to would-be stylists looking to launch their own salons, etc.

After 50+ years in the culinary arts, Shirley Eley, is in no way just a cook. She spent 25 years cooking for TAP and has cooked for such notables as Virginia Governor Douglas Wilder and actor Harry Belafonte. After TAP she moved on to serving the homeless at the Samaritan Inn and was once honored as WDBJ’s “Hometown Hero.”

Archie Freeman, a Pittsylvania County native, is a local educator who has run the gamut of administrative positions. In his 19-year career with local public schools he has been principal of four different schools, held various high-level positions in a host of other organizations and presently serves as Chief Academic Officer, Roanoke City Public Schools. Aside from his impressive list of awards and accomplishments, Freeman embodies a spirit of compassion and a thirst for molding young minds that makes him incredibly popular with students and staff alike.

Another honored was Rev. Dr. David A. Jones, pastor Williams Memorial Baptist Church (installed 2012).

His sermons have been published in religious journals (i.e. The African American Pulpit 2004). Most notable is another sermon, ‘I Am Sending You” that is part of the Library of Congress collection of sermons celebrating the 2008 election of Barack Obama.

Rev. Jones is one of those pastors that’s actively engaged in the community and presently serves as Political Action Chair for the Roanoke Branch NAACP. Additionally he is involved in the Northwest Faith Partnership, the Equal Justice Group, The Pledge to End Racism, the Roanoke Gun Violence Task Force and Roanoke Area Interfaith Stewards of the Earth.

Also among those honored was Anita Wilson, a graduate of the famed Lucy Addison High School who is adored by all who know her. Soft, classy, and brilliant she is a wealth of knowledge who has served 38 years as teacher in the local school system. Wilson retired in 1997 from a teaching career that started in Sanford, NC in 1959.

She returned to Roanoke and taught, at then, Loudon Elementary School from 1967 to 1971 after which she instructed at Highland Park Elementary School. Wilson retired from Lincoln Terrace where she served from 1980 to 1997.

Wilson, as a recipient of numerous awards and accolades, is a consummate educator who continues to be actively engaged in a host of organizations as the Roanoke Valley Democratic Party, Virginia Retired Teachers Association, NAACP, SCLC and others to name a few.

All things considered, the entire troupe of “Back To Black” should be proud of an event well worth its weight.