The experience of cleaning the graves at Love Cemetery is a profound one. Maintaining this 175-year old African American cemetery with the local community is a deep meditation on life, death, and the soul of American identity. I will never forget it. One becomes newly aware of the generations upon generations that have been lost and remained unseen. In paying tribute to Love Cemetery and its survival, I had the overwhelming sense that there may be no more necessary and immediate work than searching for a way to honor those upon whose backs this country was built, people who were once enslaved. What is all the more profound is that in this act of honoring the past we may be touching upon an unexplored source of healing for our present time.
Going to Love Cemetery inspired me. Our theater company in Oakland, CA, The Ubuntu Theater Project, does site specific theater productions in found spaces. Part of our mission is to enliven spaces that have been forgotten by the community and to reveal the latent vitality therein. There is perhaps no space more important and more in need of re-vitalization and care than Love Cemetery.
The word Ubuntu comes from a Zulu proverb and means, “I am because we are” and “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” Our theater is made up of a collection of artists who are committed to creating compelling works that unearth the human condition and unite diverse audiences through revelatory work.
Three of us hope to come and help create a week-long intensive workshop with whole community, including the four universities whose students and faculty are helping at Love too. The workshop would include cleaning Love Cemetery and creating and performing a ceremony of honesty and intent – in which we might plant the seeds of hope for racial reconciliation in our country. If people are so moved. Truth, ragged as it may be, must be given its due; only then can reconciliation emerge. An offering.
Our purpose is two-fold. First, it would allow new people to enter Love Cemetery and experience what those who have intensely labored on Love know to be true—that the preservation of these cemeteries is essential to our cultural memory and healing.
In our workshop, this knowing would be expressed through song, recitation, movement or dance, poetry, ritual, prayer, even silence. We would co-create whatever emerges, be it a ceremony of celebration or a rite of mourning and loss. Secondly, throughout this week-long workshop participants – whether they are descendants, students, faculty, community member or volunteer, would have the opportunity to meld local history, education, creativity, and agency into a piece of their own creation that reverberates with personal and public significance.
Finally, the underlying theory of this project is that in order for us to heal as a society we must discover and work to reveal the invisible ways in which we are intrinsically bound. All the arts have this potential, theater especially. This Zulu proverb which we’ve taken as our name – Ubuntu – reminds us constantly of our invisible connection. Theater has the capacity to create an experience that excavates this essence of our being: that we are all intrinsically bound, not only to one another in our present time, but to our ancestors of ages past and the generations to come. If we do not take the time to value and seek new ways in which to honor our cultural history, we prohibit the possibility of healing for ourselves and we prevent it for the children of the future.
Love Cemetery is in many ways the epicenter of these past, present and future threads. If we can weave them together through Love, we offer ourselves an inspiring and very real possibility of hope. Most importantly, we offer our children and our children’s children the future.
Michael Moran, MFA
Ubuntu Theater Project