The Socially Engaged Artist – Paul Kwame Johnson – A Tribute to Black Theatre Part 2 Words & Photos by Allen Lang

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With a career spanning half a century, Paul Kwame Johnson has carved out a distinguished role as a teacher, actor, director, and playwright in Yonkers and throughout Westchester County. For many years, Paul Kwame Johnson has shared his talents with the Sarah Lawrence College community annually by bringing performers to campus. His most recent foray at Sarah Lawrence College occurred on February 17, A Tribute to Black Theatre Part 2, a show that celebrated Black History Month. 

Johnson’s passion for community work began as an undergraduate at Sarah Lawrence, sharing theatre skills with teenagers on Yonkers basketball courts. Soon after, in 1971, Paul Kwame Johnson joined his friend, musician James Hill, at the Yonkers Community Action Program’s ‘School 12’, which led to the founding of Youth Theatre Interactions. This after-school performing arts Yonkers cultural institution still exists today. 

Johnson is currently with the Theodore D. Young Community Center Adult Acting Workshop’s Little Blue Room Theatre Company, the signature multi-cultural theatre ensemble in Westchester County. In leading the Little Blue Room Theatre Company with an unwavering dedication to artistic excellence and social responsibility, Johnson, with a company of cultivated performers, continues to enrich and inspire the cultural fabric of New York.

In A Tribute to Black Theatre Part 2, Johnson showcased the undeniable talent of each company member while skillfully directing a powerful program that confronts uncomfortable truths and challenges preconceptions, ultimately allowing us to witness our humanity reflected on stage. Without missing a beat, Johnson and company tackle complex themes with depth and nuance. The powerful exploration of racial dynamics in “Race,” followed by the poignant examination of identity in “The Right Box,” are selections that provoke introspection and dialogue. “The Real Black History,” written by company member Tina Harper, is a program highlight. 

Johnson, underscoring a reverence for pioneers and literary figures who have used their words as tools for social change, beautifully weaves the works of historical poet, novelist, and playwright Paul Lawrence Dunbar and playwright Melvin Van Peebles into an impactful series of poignant character pieces beautifully portrayed. Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic “Selma to Montgomery” speech on March 25, 1965, is a spirited, rousing call to action delivered by the entire company. Johnson honors the legacy of these seminal figures by drawing connections that encourage audiences to reflect on equality and justice. A fabulous African Dance performance titled “Goddesses” was gracefully performed by the colorfully costumed and lovely young dancers of the Falcon Dance Team. The generous and rich choreography by Jessica Parris was pleasing and joyful.

The talkback that followed A Tribute to Black Theatre Part 2 is where Johnson’s distinct legacy as a socially engaged artist becomes apparent, where the medium truly becomes the message. Here, the traditional boundaries between audience and performer dissolve, and the roles dynamically reverse. Audience members, deeply moved by the resonance of Johnson’s storytelling and the authenticity of the performances, eagerly step into the spotlight. With passion and eloquence, they share their connections to the themes explored on stage, drawing from their lived experiences and entering the performative. This reversal of roles serves as a testament to the transformative power of theatre, where the stage becomes a platform for personal and collective reflection and exchange. With audience members stepping onstage or speaking from their seats to reminisce, remember, or respond, it celebrates Johnson’s years of teaching and making theatre; this remarkable happening-like exchange speaks to skill, spirit, love, and commitment to bringing theatre home to all.

The Little Blue Room Theatre Company members: Donel Dinkins, Paula Santa-Donato, Paul Santa-Donato, Tanisha Downey, Luther Garrison, Tina Harper, Olivia Hunter, EV McFall and Tee Sudderth 

 Allen Lang is the director of the SLC Theatre & Civic Engagement Program and a Sarah Lawrence College Theatre Faculty member.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Mr. Woodson for so vividly capturing blk. events around the county. Unfortunately, i wish i knew about some of these events BEFORE they occur so i can mark my calander to attend, where do i get this information?
    Keep up the good work & bless u my brother!

    • Thank you, my sister. I usually get a tip from someone or an email from the organization ahead of time requesting coverage.

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