MIAMI — The Freedom Riders of the civil rights era are celebrated in a production by a local choreographer and founder of a South Dade dance academy.
The play, The Freedom Tour: The Story of the Freedom Riders, opened during Black History Month in South Miami-Dade at Bethel Church and a couple months ago in North Miami. In the second performance, Charles Person, the youngest of the original freedom riders who also is profiled in the play, attended.
Because of word of mouth acclaim, the cast and crew are back for a third performance this time at Florida Memorial University on Sunday. The two shows are at 3 and 7 p.m. in the Lou Rawls Center for the Performing Arts at FMU, 15800 NW 42nd Ave. in Miami Gardens. Tickets are $15 advanced and $20 at the door.
Raymond Young, the creative genius behind The Freedom Tour and Dedications Dance Academy, couldn’t be happier.
“After [the] overwhelming response from the standing-room-only performances … we decided to honor those requests by giving show goers another opportunity to experience this stage phenomenon,” Young said.
The show profiles four of the young people who risked their lives to register voters in the South. In the early 1960s, 436 men and women — mostly college students — boarded buses from places such as Washington, D.C., the Carolinas and Georgia, in a protest to change segregationist practices. They endured savage beatings as well as unjust imprisonment for simply traveling together on buses attempting to enforce the Supreme Court ruling in 1960 Boynton v. Virginia declaring segregation in interstate bus stations unconstitutional.
Young said the academy’s annual production pays tribute to African American achievement each year. This year, he said, God inspired him to focus on the Freedom Riders. He chose four: a black woman, two black men, and a white man.
“So little is known about them so I thought it would be appropriate to utilize the stage to bring homage to a group of individuals and acknowledge their relentless contribution to American history,” Young said.
After the North Miami performance, Person, who now lives in Atlanta met with the dancers and creative team. He announced that he wants them to perform in Atlanta.
After writing the script, he spent another two months researching songs that would echo the sentiments the script conveys. “For example, Precious Lord is one of the songs in the production, which is a song that encourages us to never let go of God’s hand regardless of present situations.” Young said.
Bringing the story of four of the riders to life are the 50 performers and dancers, ages 3 to 25. All of the dancers are members of the academy.
Dedications Dance Academy (DDA), located in the community of Richmond Heights has trained young aspiring artists since1996. As early as age 3, students are taught the basic fundamentals of dance including: ballet, jazz, hip-hop and the studio’s focus, liturgical dance. Spiritual growth and technique are two entities that are continually enforced.
The academy grew out of The Bethel Church, where Apostle Carlos Malone is senior pastor. The organization is housed at the church, but operates separately.
VerShona Dean, 16, a junior at Coral Reef Senior High, has danced with the academy for several years, starting when she was 3. She likes dance because it’s great exercise and “it gives me a chance to be closer to God.”
VerShona said she is excited about the FMU performance because her family lives in the area and will get a chance to see her perform. “Everyone is always busy. When we have a performance and it’s near them they’re excited to go,” she said. More importantly for her, the production touched her deeply. To prepare, she researched Person’s life, not knowing he would show up at a performance.
“Oh my God,” she recalled, “I’m meeting the person I researched. The dances gave me a different type of feeling. Usually, I save energy for opener and finale. But something told me not to hold out … push through every single dance.”