"We Are Sarasota" Returns for a Night of Hope and Civility

Theater

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY APR 27, 2018

In 2012, attorney Charlie Ann Syprett and her colleague, Judge Charles Williams, in partnership with the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, presented We Are Sarasota—a multimedia theatrical and musical presentation chronicling the key moments and figures of the civil rights movement from the 1950s to the present. They were also knee-deep in trying to launch what would become the Law Academy at Booker High School (while serving on the Sarasota County Bar Association Diversity Committee as well) and the show seemed like a meaningful way to raise money for the venture. “Everyone said we were nuts and it wouldn’t happen,” recalls Syprett, “and we presented it to a sold-out crowd.” Today, the Booker High Law Academy chugs on full steam ahead, and Syprett and WBTT prepare to revive We Are Sarasota for one night only, this coming Monday, April 30, at the Sarasota Opera House.

Incorporating storytelling, video, musical performance and re-enactment, the show begins in the 1950s with original footage of Marian Anderson singing “My Country Tis of Thee” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. after being barred from performing in Washington DC’s Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution because she was black. Accompanied by singers from WBTT, the performance transitions to real time, “and then we begin our history lesson,” says Syprett. Working a multi-podium setup, various judges and legal officials take turns leading the audience through some of the most pivotal Supreme Court decisions in the ongoing struggle for equality and civil rights, from the Dred Scott decision to Plessy v Ferguson and all the way to Title IX and Obergefell v Hodges. In between each, performers from WBTT come to the stage for emotional, musical interludes ranging from spirituals to Stevie Wonder. “We learn by history,” says Syprett. “ And we all need to appreciate where we are in America’s history.”

Closing out the night, 12 select individuals representing 12 organizations or groups in the community will take the stage, share a bit of their story, and claim their place in the fabric of the community by declaring, “We are Sarasota.” And maybe this, says Syprett, can help alleviate some of the divisiveness and tension permeating political and social dialogue since the 2016 presidential election. “I’m fearful of it and want it to stop,” she says. “It’s time to bring back the powerful message of We Are Sarasota.” And with 600 students in the audience, she hopes the younger generation takes note of all the lessons inherent. “Our goal is to empower people,” says Syprett. “A movement can begin with a single person.”

We Are Sarasota returns for one night only at the Sarasota Opera House this Monday, April 30.

Pictured: Founder Nate Jacobs (left) and singers from Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe perform in the 2012 presentation of "We Are Sarasota." Photo by Cliff Roles.

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