Op-Ed: Art as Healing


By Cat Brooks
Black women carry so much.


We tend to our homes and our children. We work long hours and multiple jobs to keep the lights on. We ensure our husbands and lovers are cared for. 


As our men are locked up, or murdered, we make ways out of no way to hold our families together, plan BBQs, holidays, birthdays and funerals.


We are experts at holding it down.


Last week, two Black mothers lost their children. A Black fiancé sat next to her dying love. A Black child watched the police shoot her daddy for the crime of complying with orders. Black wives saw their husbands in him.


Black women hugged their children tighter. My heart repeatedly broke for the mothers I know I can be at any given moment.


Far too often, the ugliness of the outside seeps into our homes. The pressure of not finding decent work or getting deserved promotions. The humiliation of bosses who talk to us like we aren’t human and who know we’ll take it because we need to pay the rent.


The frustration of working so hard to achieve the American dream but finding ourselves trapped in the nightmare of racism and oppression. The fear of traffic stops turning into funerals.


The ugliness seeps under doorways and rips families apart as coping mechanisms manifest as substance abuse, adultery, domestic violence and other unspoken tragedies.


We hold it together with the most creative of coping mechanisms.


I work it out through my art. On stage, I allow myself to feel the pain and rage and fear. I can leave it there, on the stage, and go home – mostly whole – to my family.


I often wonder how other Black women “work it out.” For some of us, it’s finding ways to accept the unacceptable. To un-see what is in front of us for fear of going blind. Sometimes the price of holding it together costs us everything.


Oakland-based actress Margo Hall is grateful for the opportunity to work it out as Rose in Cal Shakes’ current production of Fences, by August Wilson. As Fences’ lone woman character, Rose faces a difficult choice when her husband brings home another woman’s baby and asks her to raise it.


“Playing Rose allows me to represent all of the women who struggle with overbearing family decisions,” said Hall. “I was married for 18 years, just like Rose, when I decided to strike out on my own, with a 10-year-old son. Every time I perform, I work through that hard time in my life, to grieve and feel my light shine again.”


Margo and the production team spoke with African-American women at two of Cal Shakes’ community partners, Allen Temple Arms and Berkeley Food and Housing Project’s North County Women’s Center about the challenges and rewards of making family with our men.


Their stories are central in this production that tells the story of a Black family, that could be anywhere in America, at any point in time. You will see yourself and your loved ones. You will find a safe place to grieve, laugh and love.


The theater is a sanctuary.


I invite you to come and work it out.


Cat Brooks is an actress, writer and activist who lives in West Oakland with her daughter. Cal Shakes’ Fences runs from July 9-July 30. For more information visit calshakes.com



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