In 1966, I joined a handful of other Wheelock College seniors to research cultural opportunities for greater Boston children. We interviewed the well-dressed and pleasant middle-aged woman in charge of the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s children’s concerts; we probably met with her counterpart at the Museum of Fine Arts, too. (Who can remember?)
What I do remember, cringy-vividly, was our meeting with Mel King, then director of a settlement house in the South End—which housed a children’s arts school. Given those pre-civil-rights-movement times, given how little Wheelock interacted with Boston’s Black and Brown children in those days, our meeting now seems a miracle! But someone at Wheelock recommended we interview the tall, remarkably tall, gracious, long-time Boston activist. Who may have given us a tour of the art school; I don’t remember.
But I know this: as our time with him was coming to an end, having heard of the others we’d already interviewed, he’d said, “You know, a street festival is a cultural opportunity for children, too.”
I thought about that life-changing remark last night watching the Huntington Theater’s latest production: “K- I- S- S- I- N- G.”
“Could you or I ever imagine seeing a play at the Huntington Theater written by a woman of color, directed by another Black woman, with an all-people-of-color cast?” I would have loved to ask that lovely man. (Who died in 1983.) “Or, like that foundational street festival, that this cultural opportunity reflected and affirmed and, yes, celebrated the lived experience of the majority of the people sitting in that audience? And that this majority would mean that when it was announced that Roxbury-raised Thomika Bridwell, understudy for “Dot,” would be stepping in tonight, Ms. Bridwell received a hearty hometown shout-out?” (She was amazing BTW.)
I certainly couldn’t.