I first heard about the ladies of Gee’s Bend on Oprah. Talk about the World’s Stage!
I was peeled to the television waiting for my Great Aunt, Alice Royal, to come on and speak about the Black Town my family helped pioneer in Allensworth, California after slavery. Since I was a little girl I would hear the stories of how my great-grandmother Sadie (who lived to 102 years old) and her parents (born slaves) joined a handful of emancipated slaves and free Negroes to found their rendition of the Black Promised Land – Allensworth – now preserved as a National Historic State Park.
As I eagerly awaited Aunt Alice’s arrival, my attention was somewhat diverted (and later captivated), by the appearance of Gee’s Bend. This small town in Alabama, forced into complete isolation for over three decades, had now produced some of the most exquisite contributions to Modern Art that this country had ever seen. The women of Gee’s Bend, now nationally recognized quilters, sang and spoke of their experiences, and I sat there mesmerized.
Less than two weeks later, my agent called me with an audition for Gee’s Bend.
I read the script and just knew I had to audition. My initial appointment was for the character Nella, but there was just something about the character Sadie I just couldn’t shake. A few days later I requested a role change, and the rest is history.
In the last scene of the play, octogenarian Sadie considers the full course of her life- her Baptism, marriage, children, abuse, struggle for equality, loss of loved ones, and new-found stardom, and with love in her heart she looks to her Heavenly Father saying, “You brought me this far, Lord. You reached down and blessed me.”
Those powerful words stick with me night after night. I consider my own great-grandma Sadie, born in an era of racial hatred and bigotry, yet ascending as a Black Town Pioneer. I consider Barack Obama, an amalgam of cultures and nationalities, raised by a single mother on the South Side of Chicago, and ascending to the highest seat in the land.
And I consider myself, raised by a single mother in Washington, DC, reared in the church and performing arts programs, and full of too many dreams to count. Will I, like Sadie Hackett Calbert, like Sadie Pettway, like Barack Obama, have stories of how God brought me from obscurity into prominence? How God took what seemed like nothing and fashioned it into something? The chart and story of my life are still being written, but like my character Sadie, I can faithfully attest that God has certainly “brought me this far”.