I’ve spent more than my fair share of early morning hours on the streets of Baltimore, typically either heading from the nightclub or headed to the health club. But, no matter the occasion, there is one consistent observation I almost always make during those early morning hours; Black people on the bus stops on their way to work at 5 or 5:30 in the morning.
It cracks me up when I hear people running their mouths about, `how lazy Black people are.’
The devil is a liar.
The workers of this city are the backbone of Baltimore and the vast majority of them are Black and have been for generations.
There is a beautiful play currently running (until Mar. 4) at Center Stage in Baltimore, which celebrates these workers, called “Skeleton Crew” that is written by the infinitely talented Dominique Morisseau.
“Skeleton Crew” is the third play (chronologically) in a trilogy by Morisseau called, “The Detroit Project.” I also saw “Detroit 67″ by Morisseau at Center Stage in May 2016 (the third play in the trilogy is “Paradise Blue”).
I remember thinking while experiencing “Detroit 67,” which focused on a family fighting to stay together and stay alive during the Detroit riots of 1967, that this play could be set in Baltimore (I wrote about it in this column in May 2016, “Detroit Riots 1967…Baltimore Uprising 2015”).
I felt an even stronger connection with “Skeleton Crew”; with superb acting by Brittany Bellizeare (“Shanita”), Stephanie Berry (“Faye”), Sekou Laidlow (“Reggie”), and Gabriel Lawrence (“Dez”), and masterful direction by Nicole A. Watson, I felt like I know these people and I know their stories.
Although “Skeleton Crew” is set at an automobile stamping plant around the winter of 2008, it could have been Sparrows Point or Westinghouse, or the Broening Highway GM Plant in Baltimore, all three are either shuttered or operating at a fraction of their zenith.
There are so many parallels between Baltimore and Detroit. “Detroit…one of the most racially segregated cities in the United States, grappling with economic uncertainty, White flight to the suburbs and an insurgent police force that routinely menaced the Black community through intimidation, brutality and murder. Sound familiar?” I wrote in May 2016.
The great Kwame Kwei-Armah, Center Stage’s former (tragically!) artistic director, who brought “Skeleton Crew” to Baltimore, made a similar observation about these two imperiled great American cities.
“Detroit and Baltimore have a shared history of postindustrial struggle,” stated Armah in the “Skeleton Crew” program. “What ‘Skeleton Crew’ portrays about the city and people behind this struggle I think rings true for our city– and our audiences — as well.”
On a personal note, Armah (Soul Brother Number One, to me) is a world class theatrical talent, originally from Hillingdon, Uxbridge, United Kingdom. However, his contribution to the cultural lifeblood to our city has been prodigious in just a few short years since he became Center Stage’s artistic director in 2011.
Thankfully, he will return in the spring to direct the last play of the season, “SOUL The Stax Musical.” But, the void he will leave in the city’s cultural community once he finally exits won’t fully be filled. The phalanx of playwrights like Morisseau he brought to Center Stage over the years is part of his legacy to Baltimore.
The truth is, Morisseau’s work likely resonates with not just us in Baltimore and Detroit, but, Black people across the American urban diaspora, from Cleveland, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and points in between.
Especially for the people who line up on a frigid bus stop at 5:30 in the morning to go to work.
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and host and executive producer of the AFRO First Edition video podcast, which airs Monday and Friday on the AFRO’s Facebook page.