by Emily Dodi
Reading can be a powerful form of activism, especially when it’s done as a community. Reading a towering classic like Black Reconstruction in America by W.E.B. Du Bois can seem a bit daunting, though. So CSUCI
Performing Arts/Dance Lecturer MiRi Park devised “The ReadIn Series,” a read-a-thon of Du Bois’s study of the role Black Americans played in rebuilding the United States after the Civil War.
Each week through Election Day on Nov. 3, The ReadIn will feature a prominent Black actor reading aloud from the book. Live streams begin Fridays at 12 noon PST on The ReadIn YouTube Premiere channel. Episodes will be available after their premiere on The ReadIn website. The first two chapters were read on Aug. 28.
The readers include Phylicia Rashad, Yvette Nicole Brown, Roy Wood Jr., Tamara Tunie, Merle Dandridge, Jesse L. Martin and Michael McElroy, as well as cast members from the Broadway and national touring companies of Hamilton, Rent, Ain’t Too Proud, Book of Mormon, Waitress, The Color Purple, Sing Street and Motown.
Park, who read Black Reconstruction in America while at UCLA, turned to it again in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and the international protests it inspired.
“[The book] outlined the activities of the U.S. government as it tries to rebuild post-Civil War and I realized there is so much happening in the present moment that is related to what happened then,” Park says.
Black Reconstruction in America explores a part of American history that is all too often left out of the classroom and our national consciousness.
“African American history is American history and I think a lot of people don’t realize that,” Park says. “A lot of it has been written out of our textbooks and relegated to something that is ‘other.’”
But how to get people to dive into Du Bois’ monumental work?
“No one’s going to pick up a 750-page book, so how would we engage a broader audience?” Park said. “If it were a 1960s campus, I’d say ‘Let’s go read under a tree,’ but it’s 2020 and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so I thought we’d host something in the tradition of a reading marathon as educational activism.”
Park started calling on some theater friends like Michael McElroy, a Tony-award-winning actor and member of Black Theater United, “an organization of actors, directors, musicians, writers, technicians, producers and many others dedicated to inspiring reform and combating systemic racism within the
theatre community and throughout the nation.” McElroy came onboard and others soon followed.
With the help of CSUCI Associate Professor of Performing Arts/Dance Heather Castillo, Park set The ReadIn in motion.
“This project is taking knowledge learned and trying to make it accessible to the broadest audience possible,” Park said. “It is education coming together with performing arts in the spirit of activism.”
Castillo adds that timing was of the essence, too. “We thought we should frame presenting this work between the National Black Convention on Aug. 28 and one of the most important elections in the history of the United States. Especially considering how equality will be impacted by the vote.”
Also featured on The ReadIn website is video commentary by renowned scholars who add context to the material. There are calls to action as well, with links to organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Center for Black Equity and others.
“It’s not enough to feel bad about racism,” Park said. “It’s not enough to feel guilty … you have to do something.”