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Black history play returns to stage Feb. 28

'Who I Am' features East County students, director and production assistant


by: OUTLOOK FILE PHOTO - 'Who I Am: Celebrating Me' weaves together significant national stories in black history, beginning with slavery and leading up to today.

Based on a community survey in the Portland area, nine out of 10 people do not know how Black History Month came into existence, or why it exists.

Frustrated by a lack of black history awareness, East County resident Shalanda Sims sought to change that.

“Who I Am: Celebrating Me,” a play celebrating Black History Month and written and directed by Sims, is returning to the stage Feb. 28 through March 1 for its eighth year.

Performances take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Jefferson High School auditorium, 5210 N. Kerby Ave., Portland. Another performance may take place at Reynolds High School.

“Who I Am” weaves together significant national stories in black history, beginning with slavery, highlighting freedom, chronicling the Vanport era in Oregon and leading up to today. Each year, the stories are varied, but they retain the same message.

This year’s cast included Sims’ two youngest children, Syairah, a sixth-grader at H.B. Lee Middle School, and Isaiah, a sophomore at Reynolds High School.

Mother-daughter duo Marlet Hurst and Zahira Desphy, a seventh-grader at Walt Morey Middle School, also return for the production.

“It’s a fantastic tour through black history, through an array of musical numbers, stories, poetry and special visits from key characters in black history,” Hurst said.

“It’s been awesome to see the (students’) thrist quenched with knowing more about black history. They don’t always see a reflection of black history in school. Now they have a platform to learn about black history, to discuss the elements of black history and embrace black history.”

Added Zahira, “It’s really educational and entertaining.”

Black History Month was first celebrated in 1926, held as a weeklong event in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.

In 1976, the celebration was extended to a month, with President Gerald Ford urging Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout history.”

Tickets are $10 in advance at Jayah Rose Salon in Portland and $12 the day of the show. The play is sponsored in part by Pen In My Hand and Multnomah County Cultural Coalition.



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