Young voice for justice, making us proud

Autumn Smith grew up on Cleveland’s Near West Side, doing shows at Near West Theatre. Now, when others won’t speak, she’s raising her poet’s voice against racism on campus. We couldn’t be prouder.

Autumn Smith (left, as Nephew), with Jessica Nieves (as Bilbo Baggins) in The Hobbit, 2004.

Autumn Smith (left, as Nephew), with Jessica Nieves (as Bilbo Baggins) in The Hobbit (2004).

Watch her read her poem in the video below. She laments the silent reaction to a slur scrawled in a public place in the environs of Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio, where she is a student. She describes less-public acts of racial intimidation encountered by students of color at many colleges. “Stuff like this happens on campuses everywhere,” she told me shortly after posting the YouTube video on April 12. “I hope that schools will start to address stuff like this.”

Autumn Smith (left, as Princess Jasmine) with Jason Dugger as the title character in Aladdin (2006).

Autumn Smith (left, as Princess Jasmine) with Jason Dugger as the title character in Aladdin Jr. (2006).

Her courageous decision to speak out is matched by her lean, strong poetry: “These places of diversity keep beating us down and calling us n—–, sitting us at the farthest table in the farthest corner. … Action is too terrifying. It starts vocal. It ends shaking.” Preach it, sister.

Nothing we do at the theater is more important than encouraging people to build community and find their voices. If you know young people who needs to raise or find a voice, through a theater process that builds ensemble and self-esteem, send them to auditions for KLAMOR, our free summer program for ages 9 to 13, (one more day left — Sunday, April 14, at 1 p.m.!); or for our summer youth production, Side Show, May 21, 22 or 23. We need all Autumn Smiths we can get. — Hans Holznagel

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About Near West Theatre

Our Mission Statement: "Near West Theatre builds loving relationships and engages diverse people in strengthening their sense of identity, passion, and purpose, individually and in community, through transformational theatre arts experiences." View all posts by Near West Theatre

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