With the 2020 U.S. presidential election less than 10 months away (Tuesday, Nov. 3), the importance of ensuring that all eligible voters be registered so they can make their voices heard at the polls has become a mission of urgency for an ever-increasing wave of citizens.
And for actress Mzuri Moyo Aimbaye, educating, motivating and assisting unregistered voters has developed into an almost 20-year project – best understood via her one-woman play, “The Fannie Lou Hamer Story: Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired.”
Aimbaye’s self-created production, which includes riveting storytelling, 11 emotionally-stirring songs from the Civil Rights Era and a horrific video lynching montage, comes to the stage Saturday, January 25 at the Prince George’s Community College Center of Performing Arts, Proscenium Theatre in Largo at 3 p.m.
Directed by Byron C. Saunders, the “get out the vote healing production” serves as the first stop in Maryland for the actress/playwright’s 2020 National Tour Commemorating Women of Civil Rights and Social Justice. Following the play, voter registration booths will be available, courtesy of the NAACP and League of Woman Voters.
Aimbaye, who created the play after watching a television interview with Fannie Lou Hamer, the “Mother of Voter Registration for Black Americans,” says she remembers being struck by the realization of Hamer’s incredible story and mesmerized by her determination to remain kind and willingness to forgive.
Hamer’s vivid account of voter suppression and brutal jailhouse beatings, Aimbaye adds, inspired her to create and perform “The Fannie Lou Hamer Story.”
“She spoke for the voiceless and came to prominence after learning that Blacks could vote – something she didn’t even know,” Aimbaye said. “Ironically, she developed her skills as a public speaker by working as a sharecropper on a plantation where she was a timekeeper and also the person to whom people would confer when their loved ones died and they had no insurance.”
“After her testimony at the 1964 Democratic Convention where she shared how badly she’d been beaten by law officials and others, President Johnson was forced to push for the Voter’s Right Act. Some say it was Dr. King who served as the catalyst for the Voter’s Right Act but the real impetus for President Johnson becoming determined to see the legislation become the law was Fannie Lou Hamer.”
As the play begins, Hamer returns from Heaven and talks about police brutality – calling the names and invoking the spirits of those whose police-involved deaths have become part of the contemporary political landscape: Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Oscar Grant, among others.
“I envisioned Fannie Lou Hamer being called from the grave, unable to rest because so many people needed to know her story,” Aimbaye said. “This is my 19th year doing the play and it required a great deal of research. I had no idea who she was prior to her death but I did have the honor of interviewing her stepdaughter, and consulting with icons like Congressman John Lewis, who has seen and continued to support the play and Dr. Frank Smith, a founding member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the founding director of the District’s African-American Civil War Museum.”
“She should be a household name because she was a true warrior but I think her being an uneducated woman from the South had a lot to do with that. She was known to say that after the terrible beatings she survived, she was never afraid of anything or anyone else again. It’s that spirit that the powers to be would like to keep suppressed. Since getting permission to tell her story and to keep it going, we have performed to sold-out houses – venues where as many as 80 percent of the audience had never heard of her before.”
Mission Possible: Increase Voter Registration
As mentioned earlier, the production also serves as a means of increasing voter registration, particularly among college students. But Aimbaye notes that even children too young to vote are encouraged to come to the play, to listen and to learn.
“We need our youth to understand the importance of voting,” she said. “We want them to understand the significance of Juneteenth. We need them to learn that securing the right to vote for Blacks was a 95-year-old battle. This is a passion and ministry for me and those who support this production.”
“We’re asking local pastors to purchase blocs of tickets and bring their young adults so they can be educated about Fannie Lou Hamer and register to vote.”
“Believe it or not, and despite overwhelmingly-positive responses about the play as we’ve toured the U.S., 15 colleges recently turned us down after we contacted them about bring the show to their campuses for Black History Month. Still, I remain diligent and pray that more folks will realize the significance of this play and the life of Fannie Lou Hamer – and that they’ll support this initiative in any way possible.”
Aimbaye travels the country with her signature performance in theaters, churches, high schools, colleges, universities and civic organizations. The show has become a captivating backdrop for voter registration wherever it is performed, leaving audiences inspired and spellbound.
Healing Through the Sound of Music was conceived in 2009 by Mzuri Moyo Aimbaye (nee Lorraine T. Pope) who adopted the Swahili name Mzuri (beautiful) Moyo (heart) Aimbaye (who sings). Therefore, Healing Through the Sound of Music is dedicated to creating enlightening educational entertaining performances that HEAL, INSPIRE and RAISE HISTORICAL AWARENESS for viewing audiences of all ages. More information can also be found at www.thefannielouhamerstory.com, via email at email@example.com or by phone, 347-395-0259.