Actress delivers theatrical message of literacy
A very special guest stopped by to help Baumholder celebrate Black History Month Feb. 26.
Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux, president and CEO of her own non-profit organization, Flying Geese Productions, which specializes in educational entertainment, performed a riveting and true account of the life and times of Harriet Tubman. Her company, founded in 1997, currently performs various characters in history and develops literacy programs at schools, colleges, military bases, churches or where ever needed.
Before the audience at the Wagon Wheel Theater, Waddy-Thibodeaux transformed herself from a 20th century CEO into the legendary Harriet Tubman and relayed the story of the Underground Railroad, while delivering a message on the importance of literacy. She told the audience the Underground Railroad was “Just people, people helping other people. And don’t let nobody tell you no never mind that the Underground Railroad was all colored folks. No, there were Dutch, Portuguese, French, Chinese, Indian, white folks, colored, all of them working together,” Waddy-Thibodeaux told the audience through her Harriet Tubman character.
A powerful recital of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech was also presented by 2nd Lt. Zayana Dennis and there was a musical performance by Pfc. Tamika Torain.
The Baumholder American Middle and High School allowed several students to attend the performance, which was held during school hours. After the performance, Lt. Col. Paul Pfahler, U.S. Army Garrison Baumholder commander, told the students, “This is a better observance today because you’re here, and I’d love to see the whole place next time filled with as many of you as we can get out of class, because this right here was education. And, if you didn’t learn something today then I’ll be surprised.
“Our observance was simple, it was informative, it was effective and it was necessary. It was necessary because America has made huge strides since this time (the era portrayed by Waddy-Thibodeaux in her performance) but we still have a way to go.
“By you being here and by this ceremony taking place, a very small ceremony, it helped make Baumholder a better place to live. It helped make all of us better individuals, and I challenge you each day to remember what you saw here and take that with you for the rest of your days, to not only help make your life better, your community better, but our nation. We’re based in diversity. This is what makes us strong and you’re all a part of that,” said Pfahler.
Melissa Waddy-Thibodeaux is passionate about what she does. The first time I called her, it didn’t matter that she was on a New York subway train on her way to a performance in Brooklyn. “I have a long ride so we can talk now,” she told me (as I marveled about her cell reception). Immediately, she began telling me about what visitors can expect from her show, “The Resurrection of Harriet Tubman” which she will perform Feb. 15, at Bank of Hawaii Family Sunday as the event celebrates Back History Month with “Emphasis Africa.”In Waddy-Thibodeaux’s interpretation of Harriet Tubman, visitors take a trip with her on what she calls the “New Underground Reading Railroad.” Waddy-Thibodeaux designed the program, which includes historical songs, to teach children and adults about literacy through the reenactment of this historical figure. “If you can’t read, you aren’t free,” says Waddy-Thibodeaux. “I tell the adults in the audience to turn around and help the children.” She is driven to do good work and promote literacy.
About eight minutes into our interview it seemed she hit a no-service area and we lost contact. I reached her the following day—as she was checking in to a hotel.
Waddy-Thibodeaux founded her one-woman production company, Flying Geese Productions, in 1993. Along with Harriet Tubman, she has portrayed such historical figures as Rosa Parks, Sojourner Truth, Cathay Williams and Barbara Jordan. To write her scripts, she conducts hours of research at museums and libraries.
After a Hawai’i resident saw her performance as Tubman at the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum in Houston, Texas, where Waddy-Thibodeaux is a resident artist, she was approached to include Honolulu on her tour. Her visit to Honolulu—her first—is part of her tour of reading clinics that includes such cities as New York, Los Angeles and Houston.
“I have learned that I could be the Harriet Tubman of today,” says Waddy-Thibodeaux. “Giving back is the only way I can receive. This is my purpose in life.” When asked why she portrays historical figures in her performances, she replies, “If you don’t know history, you are bound to repeat it.”
Waddy-Thibodeaux’s appearance in Honolulu is sponsored by The Links, Incorporated, one of the oldest and largest volunteer service organizations of women who are committed to enriching, sustaining and ensuring the culture and economic survival of African Americans and other persons of African ancestry. The Links has sponsored a Black History Month event at the Academy for more than a decade. She performs at the Honolulu Academy of Arts at noon, 1pm and 2pm.
Interested in being a “New Underground Reading Railroad” conductor or want to book Waddy-Thibodeaux at your institution?