Phylicia RashadAug. 25, 2020 — African American actors Phylicia Rashad, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Roy Wood Jr., are among 34 renowned Black actors from stage and screen who will join in an online weekly reading marathon of W.E.B. Du Bois’ “Black Reconstruction In America” beginning on Friday, Aug. 28. “The ReadIn Series” is produced by CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) Performing Arts/Dance Lecturer MiRi Park with assistance from Associate Professor of Performing Arts/Dance Heather Castillo.

“African American history is American history and I think a lot of people don’t realize that,” Park said. “A lot of it has been written out of our textbooks and relegated to something that is ‘other.’”

Other actors reading the book aloud over YouTube Premiere across the 10-week period are Tamara Tunie, Merle Dandridge, Jesse L. Martin, and Michael McElroy, as well as cast members from the Broadway and national touring companies of “Hamilton,” “Rent,” “Ain't Too Proud,” “Book of Mormon,” “Waitress,” “The Color Purple,” “Sing Street,” and “Motown.”

The idea for the project began when Park was assigned the 750-page book in a UCLA graduate class taught by Robin D. G. Kelley, the Gary B. Nash Endowed Chair in U.S. History at UCLA.

“I read it in the winter of 2018 and thought wow it spans the period from 1860 to 1880 and it feels as if it had been written the prior month,” Park said. “It outlined the activities of the U.S. government as it tries to rebuild post-Civil War and I realized there is so much happening in the present moment that is related to what happened then.”

With the rest of the U.S. and the world, Park watched as the death of George Floyd invigorated the Black Lives Matter movement (which began in Ferguson, Missouri in 2015) across the nation. She realized this book, which was published in 1935, was never more relevant, but how could she get the content of the 750-page book out there to the general public?

“No one’s going to pick up a 750-page book, so how would we engage a broader audience?” Park said. “If it were a 1960s campus, I’d say ‘Let’s go read under a tree,’ but it’s 2020 and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so I thought we’d host something in the tradition of a reading marathon as educational activism.”

Park had many contacts on and off Broadway, thanks to her role as associate choreographer for the 20th anniversary national tour of the musical “Rent,” so she started asking her friends if they would be interested in participating in the project.

The first person she called was Tony-award winning actor Michael McElroy of “Broadway Inspirational Voices,” “Big River” and numerous other Broadway shows. He is now part of the newly-formed Black Theatre United, an organization of actors, directors, musicians, writers, technicians, producers and many others dedicated to inspiring reform and combating systemic racism within the theatre community and throughout the nation.

From there, word spread, and before long, a who’s who of Black theater and film luminaries was on board to read part of the 17-chapter book. Park asked Castillo to join her in gathering and editing together the readings from all 34 actors and preparing them for the YouTube presentation.

Yvette Nicole BrownReadings will begin at 12 noon Pacific Standard Time every Friday beginning Aug. 28. Then, on Sept. 22, episodes will air on Tuesdays and Fridays, with the last reading on Election Day—Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

“We thought we should frame presenting this work between the National Black Convention on Aug. 28 and one of the most important elections in the history of the United States,” Castillo said. “Especially considering how equality will be impacted by the vote.”

Park is including scholarly components to the national marathon by including context from African American scholars from institutions across the country including Harvard and UMass Amherst among others. “This project is taking knowledge learned and trying to make it accessible to the broadest audience possible,” Park said. “It is education coming together with performing arts in the spirit of activism.”

Social media sponsors include The New York Performing Arts Library, UCLA Department of World Arts & Culture/Dance, CCOHR, and Housatonic Heritage.

“It’s not enough to feel bad about racism,” Park said. “It’s not enough to feel guilty…you have to do something.”

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