by Leoncia Gillespie
About a year ago I wrote the following journal entry, from the perspective of an anxious, seventeen year old, Bull City Dignity cast member. Now, I’m an anxious, eighteen year old, Bull City Dignity Co-director. Sometimes it’s difficult processing what it means to be one of the “responsible” people in the BCD space, and I still find myself looking to Lara and Cindy for answers. There are times that I even feel the need to ask the students if I’m doing a good job, because most of the time I still feel like one of them. However, I think that’s one of the unique aspects of Dominique and I’s roles. We’ve been in the same position as them before. While this year’s cast is by no means identical to last year’s cast, they still have some of the same basic needs and questions; Dom and I can relate to that. As I struggle with the pressure of having a “leadership role” in the project, I find that it’s most helpful for me to reflect on the feelings and thoughts I had last year as a cast member. This is what was on my mind a year ago:
I’ve been trying to tell people about the show. I find myself starting off by telling them the name of our group. This is followed by a lot of hesitation, and an awkward process that feels like me playing tag with words. I’m always it. This game of constantly grappling for words that describe the show is not the result of my lack of knowledge, but the result of the show having a sort of fluid foundation. Everytime I tell someone about the show, I am brought to the realization that it’s so much more than what can be explained through a brief summary. I am reminded of everything I have learned and experienced with the Bull City Dignity Project. My experience with learning lines and understanding the meaning of a script as it continues to undergo edits seems to be the shortest accurate representation of the show. We’re putting on a performance about Durham, “back then” and “now.” And, when I get in the car to leave rehearsals, I can see the current Durham. It’s not dormant. It’s not the same everyday. Like the script, it is constantly being tweaked and changed. Everyday now, I’m reminded of the fact that we are not just recording random stories and conversations on paper. The words and stories we hear from activists, family members, and city officials convey emotions that could only be felt by those immensely impacted by change. These dialogues reflect present and past feelings evoked by recollections of events like the construction of highway 147 and the passage of Amendment One. We’re transcribing interviews containing various perspectives on information that still impact our lives and our community. I can literally see the apartment complexes being built. I drive on highway 147 and see the city surrounding me. This ride now consequently reminds me of historic divisions, both physical and social. I see the protests. I see the news. I see the art. Gentrification, anger, passion, creativity…all molding the environment where I live, commute, and breathe everyday.
Then, people ask me about the show, and in my mind they are asking me about Durham. This used to just be “the city that I’m from” or “the place I’m growing up in.” Durham used to be a minor detail in my story, worth noting, but hardly worth some deep or glorious explanation. It was just a city. My house, my family and my friends were home, not Durham. It’s funny. This is my 17th year in this world...in this city, and it feels like I’m just now letting all of my weight really connect me to the soil. My eyes and arms are just now opening up and allowing me to actually become a part of the space, rather than simply existing in it. I listened to Lamont Lilly’s interview, during which he talks about artists making this city dope and being able to live here because the housing had generally been affordable. As a poet that spoke to me, because that meant I could return to Durham and know that I would be returning to a place where I could thrive. However, he also spoke about changes being made, as they relate to the pricing of housing, which seem to be making that idea less realistic. It was revelations like the aforementioned one that really made me start thinking about how important the history and current state of this city is, and also how relevant it is to my life.
A curiosity about this city’s history and general presence has been awoken in me. I have so many questions myself, and now people are asking me questions. I feel like all I have to give them is more questions and some crayola drawn, rudimentary pictures. It’s as if I’m an eager artist, but still cautious and unskilled. The answers I have right now are simultaneously incomplete, unfinished, colorful, simple and complex. Maybe that is what our show is… maybe that is what Durham is. I am not sure yet, but I want to find out or at least continue searching and exploring. It is my 17th year here, in Durham; there is only a year until I leave for college, and my journey in this city feels like it is still in its beginning stages. I do not think I am late, because I do not believe that a time constraint can be put to discovery and learning. Furthermore, the information that is available for myself and others to uncover is endless. So, at this point I think the best way for people to obtain some idea of what our show is about is for them to spend time walking around Durham. Explore downtown, Tobacco Road, Hayti, Geer Street, and Fayetteville Street; talk to the people who have experienced the changes that these areas have undergone. Welcome the idea that change is complicated. There will be times when it should be praised, times it should be scrutinized, and most importantly, times when it should be challenged.