“Do you want to tell the story of that hot summer,” Davis asks her husband, during a recent interview.
“It was the summer of 2010,” he says, pausing and looking over at her. “Fill in whatever I miss.”
Washington-Davis finds no need to interrupt as Davis recounts the start of ReBirth Arts Collective, the organization they launched from their New Haven apartment that year. The two had been buoyed by artistic and cultural opportunities while growing up in Bridgeport, and were on to professional success in creative fields. But they knew many young people in their hometown did not have the same access.
“We wanted to bring a certain level of creative and artistic exposure to (Bridgeport),” he says. “Being an actor and loving to act and with LA-Toya being a writer … we thought, how about creating stories, visual stories that empower and inspire people. So, that summer in 2010, we wrote our very first play.”
“Timeline” was as much a theatrical debut as it was the collective’s introduction. The play, which was staged at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, took the audience on a journey from the 1800s to the present, showing the cultural, artistic, social and historical contributions African-Americans have made, as well as the struggles, challenges and tragedies faced in their fight for equal rights.
By providing a theatrical experience about rich origins and subsequent struggles, they hoped the story would help disenfranchised youth, and others, searching for roots and connection to find pride in their heritage.
“It dealt with a lot of social injustices that we were seeing,” Davis says. “People sometimes need to sit back and watch things unfold. We spend so much time living in it — seeing it from the micro-perspective — that you don’t always see it from the macro perspective.”
Recently, the couple, who is in their early 30s, has engaged in their own micro and macro analysis of the collective. Things are busy for the couple, who are raising four children and pursuing their careers. Davis, a professional actor since 2010, is finding more roles in film and television, including CBS’ “Blue Bloods” and NBC’s “Manifest.” Washington-Davis a National Slam poet and educator, is an assistant principal at a charter school in Harlem, N.Y. To ease their commute, they are in the process of moving from Connecticut to Jersey City, N.J. However, they expect to be back in Bridgeport often for work with ReBirth.
Open mics, one-act plays, dance, improv shows and social gatherings have attracted more than 3,000 people in the greater Bridgeport community since the collective’s inception. Last year, about a dozen students, ages 10 to 15, attended a free summer intensive camp at Housatonic Community College focused on literacy and creative arts. This is a small operation, supported by the couple’s time and funds, as well as contributions of a small group of colleagues. They now are looking to raise the visibility, however, and attract donations online for their latest artistic endeavor.Read Full Article
As the leaves turn and winter arrives, the duo plans to begin work on the group’s first film project, a trio of shorts about social injustice and systemic oppression through the lens of inner-city problems. Students from the summer arts training program have been enlisted to help make the film, alongside professional filmmakers.
It is another example of “edutainment,” the word they use to describe their art, which delves into contemporary issues, but also provides historical context. Donations are sought for the project, and beyond, with the hope the afterschool and summer arts training program becomes a constant presence in Bridgeport.
Once rooted, the program would mirror the opportunities Davis and Washington-Davis experienced. Davis says time spent at the Ralphola Taylor Community Center, where he learned to dance and make music, and Neighborhood Studios, where his father, Jack Tunisi Davis, worked, helped to shape his path. “I grew up in the inner city without many options. But, I was exposed to art at a very young age and with those tools I picked up at 7 and 8 years old, I’ve been able to use to craft and design a different destiny for myself,” he says.
Washington-Davis used the tools she developed to become a storyteller and educator and help others to broaden their horizons and expectations.
“Our program is an exposure program, an empowerment program,” she says. “It’s about giving the skills and techniques to build those talents that give you voice and self-expression. It comes back to the narrative.
“That is the heart of ReBirth,” Washington-Davis adds. “We want to create an avenue or space for their stories. And not to just do this through dialogue, but through dance, through improv, through music, through film so in a variety of ways. We want more people to have the opportunity to rewrite those narratives and tell their own stories. These are not just stories someone has told them.”
To learn more about ReBirth Arts Collective, visit igg.me/at/rebirthartscollective
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