For Mike Wiley, a local performer and civil rights activist, having genuine and open conversations about racial injustice is non-negotiable, despite the pandemic. That’s why he created Playmakers Repertory Company’s latest virtual series, "Higher Ground Conversations."
The virtual discussions will be held on the third Thursday of each month. The next one is this Thursday at 7 p.m. and will feature N.C. State psychology professor Rupert Nacoste and ChamberSoul cellist Shana Tucker.
"Prepare to not be lectured to, but to be a part of an open and honest conversation about race and the history of racism in this country,” Wiley said.
Deborah Stroman, the racial equity education director of "Higher Ground," said the initiative is designed to showcase leaders who are committed to racial justice.
“Higher Ground is an initiative to create awareness of the long-standing historical disparities that are happening in our country,” Stroman said.
Stroman said she is grateful for the opportunity to work with like-minded creators and activists throughout the process.
About a month and a half before the virtual sessions began, Wiley reached out to Playmakers, thinking UNC and the local theater company would be a great partner for the organization.
The "Higher Ground" team has previously conducted bus trips to Montgomery, Alabama, where travelers visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Throughout the trip, they were able to hold vulnerable conversations about America’s racist history.
“We were going to do it again this year,” Wiley said. “Unfortunately, we can’t physically go down to Montgomery at a time when the country really needs reconciliation and to talk about social justice, race equity and the history of racism in this country.”
The country’s urgent need for healing has propelled the virtual series into existence, Beth Crow, the director of "Higher Ground," said. She has felt that many white Americans are seeking to dig deeper into their past.
“I said to Mike, when we had to cancel, ‘I feel like people want to go deeper. They want to understand better,’” Crow said. “Then we started looking at who are some folks that could help us go deeper in these conversations.”
"Higher Ground" hosts a variety of guest speakers to present their work and engage in conversations with participants. One of the first speakers was North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green.
“The criteria we look for are really artists that have put out work through the bulk of their career that is specifically dealing with or working towards race equity, trying to stamp out racism, as it were,” Wiley said.
Stroman also believes that these issues must be confronted publicly. "Higher Ground" has enabled her and her colleagues to do so, she said.
“What I've been saying more and more with my own workshops is that we all need to be kindly bold in how we confront these inequities,” Stroman said. “We’re in the South where everybody's nice, hospitable and polite. But when it comes to harm and death, we need more conscious people to be kindly bold and to confront the realities.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.