Several years ago the Dallas Morning News published an article entitled 'Black flight' changing the makeup of Dallas schools, which detailed the exodus of black students to charter schools within the city. Compounding that issue is the relocation of black family to area suburbs in search of better living conditions and better educational opportunities for their children.
As the parent of a Dallas ISD graduate, I understand that dilemma all too well. While I am a resident in the North Dallas area and the schools tend to be better academically, I struggled with my own perception that the attention placed on black male students was substandard based on the fact that black males are at the bottom of every academic indicator out there (a trend mirrored nationwide) and the fact my son had a reading disability.
The level of expectation of what his school thought he could achieve wasn’t to my standard and I voiced that ad-nauseam in annual ARD meetings. Complicating the issue was the fact that he was a star athlete so they had a neat little ‘box’ in which they wanted to place him. They were content that since he wasn’t a behavioral issue that his focus should be solely on sports.
Only after my son was accepted to a summer engineering program at the University of Texas – Austin during his junior year (the only participant not projected to be the valedictorian or salutatorian of his class) did his school administrators take notice and offered us the assistance we requested to ensure he would gain entry into the college of his choice. He was successful and received admission into one of Texas’ top universities and as a non-athlete.
This dynamic of ‘black flight’ and those who consider it is at the heart of the new play ‘homeschooled’ by award-winning playwright Jonathan Norton running at the Corner Theatre in Desoto as part of the African American Repertory Theater’s (AART) annual season.
Directed by AART co-founder Regina Washington and featuring the superb acting talents of Denise Lee, Ebony Marshall-Oliver, Eleanor T. Threatt Hardy, and Allysen Elizabeth Jackson, the quartet delivers solid performances.
The production sometimes had pacing challenges with some scenes that could have been delivered at a slightly faster tempo, but nonetheless, multiple points of view behind the motivation of those who want their children homeschooled (or to attend charter schools) and the administrators who guide the process was achieved.
Equally impressive was the set, which was gave you the feel of peeping in a window and having a front row seat to the inner workings of homeschooled environments.
Lee and Hardy, both stage veterans with multiple awards between them, are clear standouts in their respective roles.
Lee plays Johnetta, former public school teacher and the headmistress of a small homeschool which she adores, even though she is haunted by personal demons. In one scene where she is forced to confront those demons head on leaves you absolutely breathless and full of empathy for her plight.
Likewise, Hardy plays Morgan, a mother who dotes on her daughter Michaela, played by the effervescent and bubbly Jackson. Hardy immediately draws you in with her combination of a no nonsense attitude and genuine concern over the future of her daughter’s education in a homeschooled environment. When tension builds between Morgan and Johnetta, who is also the godmother of Michaela, the feeling of authenticity rings loud and clear.
Marshall-Oliver plays the role of Rashida, a young black Muslim mother who serves as a teacher’s aide to Johnetta and whose children are enrolled in the school. Marshall-Oliver brings grace and dignity to her character as well as outright indignation over her perception that she is not being heard by either Johnetta and Morgan.
Her storyline really intrigued me as it related to the needs of Muslim parents to have a safe, academic environment for their kids during this post-9/11 period and I wished Norton had explored and vetted that perspective deeper. Despite, you come away with enough information to think about the concerns of Muslim parents a little more and form your own opinion.
Jackson as Michaela was truly a sight to behold, both for her physical beauty as well as her honest portrayal of her character without it coming off as a ‘kiddo simply reciting lines and looking cute.’ With more acting experiences like this, she is sure to be a mainstay on Dallas acting stages and beyond as she grows older.
If I were grading this production on an academic scale, 'homeschooled' receives a solid B+.