‘Where have you been, Trayvon?’ sparked dialogue on racism

BY CHADEIRA MOORE — In a society where generations of racial injustice, mass incarceration, and police brutality remains prominent, director Nicholas Rodriguez sprung into action and addressed the matter with his latest production, ‘Where Have You Gone, Trayvon Martin?’

The Inner City Ensemble, a non-profit youth arts group from Paterson, delivered a chilling, 60-minute performance Feb. 15 during common hour at the Shea Center for Performing Arts.

This production primarily focused on Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old African-American teenager who was fatally shot by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012.  Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter and was found not guilty.

Rodriguez said the case and its ruling inspired him to bring this production to life and shed light on these social issues.

“The reason why I was compelled to focus on Trayvon Martin is because I can’t pick one story that’s sadder or more upsetting. The thing that really upset me about Trayvon Martin is that I worked with students his age. I know that teenagers are going to challenge their parents, challenge their teachers, and challenge adults,” said Rodriguez, creative director and choreographer of the Inner City Ensemble.  “That actually is age appropriate. What Trayvon Martin was accused of by George Zimmerman was a  non-violent, petty activity. Zimmerman just suspected him.

“Out of all the stories,  I focused on this one because a) it wasn’t a police officer, it was a citizen taking law into hisown hands. The story affected me deeply… I thought that, at the very least, if it’s captured creatively through word and dance, it will elicit more dialogue.”

‘Where Have You Gone, Trayvon?’ supplies an effortless combination of spoken word, story narratives, and contemporary art dance with hip-hop elements.

The production consists of several acts, portraying the lives of not only Martin but Sandra Bland (who died in police custody), Tamir Rice (fatally shot after police mistakenly took his BB gun for a real gun), Jordan Edwards (fatally wounded when a police officer fired his rifle into a car full of teenagers), and Eric Garner (died after being placed in a chokehold by a police office). Each act used a different sound, dance element, color background, and trigger phrase like ‘Hands Up’ or ‘I Can’t Breathe.’

Students said they felt an emotional connection with the mini-performances, particularly the Garner piece.

“My favorite part was when the production got into detail about Eric Garner,” said Chadwick Linwood, 22, a senior at William Paterson University. “I’m actually from Staten Island, New York and my mom actually knew him so I have an emotional relationship with that situation.

”The dancers also felt a sense of enlightenment when performing ‘Where Have You Gone, Trayvon?’

“I learned many things about myself and the community around me,”said Timere Chambers, 18, a performer in  the Inner City Ensemble. “As a dancer, working with Nicholas and the things he tries to portray through his works, it taught me a lot about intention and doing things with meaning. Sometimes, you have to dive in personally to deliver the message. It taught me a lot about different backgrounds and stories you don’t get to hear.”

Towards the end of the performance, members of the Paterson Bronze Shields, an African-American law enforcement association, came on-stage for a discussion with the audience to share their perspective on social issues.

“My favorite part was afterwards, when there was opportunity for dialogue. That was super important,” said Fatima Diakite, 21, a senior at WPU. “They didn’t just leave us with the performance. It opened the chance for us to speak to the cops and allow us to voice our opinions.”

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