By Jody Key -Managing Editor- February 10, 2022
Lawrenceville – I’m a child of the 70s. Born in 1966, I was 6 years old in the year 1972 when Shirley Chisholm threw her hat in the ring for President of the United States in the Democratic primary. My dad was a navigator in the VietNam War, so politics were important to him. When he returned from Vietnam, he would come home from his job at the Air Force Academy where he taught English, fix his high-ball, grab the paper, and turn on the Evening News with Walter Cronkite. I would often play in the kitchen or in the living room and listen to the news. Dad would talk to his 5 girls about what was going on in the world as if we were adults. I remember when Nixon was elected. I don’t remember, however, a brash, bold, black woman by the name of Shirley Chisholm. Shirley also had a dad who shared politics with her. My dad always watched both the Democratic and Republican Primaries in their entirety so he could make a conscious decision when voting. I found those boring, so didn’t watch them with him until 1976 when I was 10. I’m sure Dad knew who Shirley Chisholm was, but he’s no longer around for me to aak. I live in Georgia, where Black History is avidly celebrated, and I’m a teacher who has taught my students about influential black women: Harriet, Tubman, Mary McLeod Bethune, Maya Angelou, and more. Even so, I didn’t know who Shirley Chisholm was, until I was now years old.
On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to interview Ingrid Griffith, writer/actor/producer of SHIRLEY CHISHOLM: UNBOSSED AND UNBOWED which is playing at Aurora Theatre through February 20th. Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing this new work live and learned a little more about a 20th-century woman who is becoming a proven role model for the 21st century.
Chisholm was the first Black American woman to serve the United States House of Representatives in 1969. She represented the neighborhood in Brooklyn where she was born and raised and was a force to be reckoned with. A staunch advocate for her marginalized constituents, she fought for issues that mattered in her district including education, fair housing, and women’s rights. She had a sense of style that was unforgettable, and her barrier-breaking work was also groundbreaking
Ingrid Griffith has been working since 2015 to bring this dynamic one-woman/one-act performance to the stage. She told me how excited she was in 2020 when the show was ready to share with the world, and then how disappointed she felt as the pandemic prevented her from sharing her vision in time for the 2020 election. Nevertheless, she took a page from the Chisolm playbook and pressed on, creating a digital version of the show to be shared in libraries across Brooklyn and Long Island reaching an audience beyond typical theater patrons.
Theaters have been slowly thawing out from Covid outbreaks and opening up, and UNBOSSED is once again ready to be performed live. We are blessed to be able to see one of the first live performances of this important show.
When you enter the theater, you are greeted on the stage with a sparse set. Two cane chairs, a backlit Japanese style changing screen, and a video screen used to capture the images that enhance this intimate performance.
Ingrid does a fantastic job connecting with the audience. Her work is a serious piece sprinkled with just the right amount of humor. She plays a myriad of characters, but the entire work is centered around Chisholm’s story–a narrative told in the first person. What a compelling story it is! This is the story of a little girl who listened in on her father’s political meetings and grew up to be a contender for President of the United States, garnering enough delegates from the Democratic primaries to keep her in the race all the way to the Democratic National Convention. Shirley paved the way for other BIPOC Americans and women to run for the Presidency from both sides of the aisle; including Jessie Jackson, Alan Keyes, Barack Obama, Ben Carson, Carole Moseley Braun, Al Sharpton, Corey Booker, Deval Patrick, Herman Cain, and Kamala Harris.
Ingrid has done her homework, and emulates Shirley’s speech and accent, including her unusual lisp, with great accuracy. Griffith has a passion for Shirley along with all the other characters she plays in this show including Shirley’s mother and father, her husband, the Mafia Bosses that ran politics in the city, and the many people who helped her and endorsed her candidacy along the way.
Unfortunately, America was not ready for a Black female president, and Shirley lost the Democratic nomination to George McGovern. She knew what others were saying about her, that she should drop out of the race because she was splitting the vote, that she was a long shot, but she felt this was something she must do for those like her — Black Americans and women. This show is Speakeysie recommended, so please get your tickets at https://tickets.auroratheatre.com/overview/unbossed-and-unbowed.
Some final personal thoughts. I believe in “spirit moments” which are times in our lives when whatever higher force a person believes in brings persons, events, and occasions in your life that enrich you as a human being. The word Chisholm has been a recurring theme in my life. I lived in a house that was literally on the Chisholm Trail in Oklahoma as a teenager from 1982 to 1997. Then I lived on a street in Las Cruces, New Mexico called “Chisholm Trail” with my husband from 1993 to 1995. Now, the word Chisholm has entered my life again. I wonder if the fates were trying to tell me something. As a result, I’ve made a new friend in Ingrid Griffith, and feel richer in the short time we’ve gotten to know each other. I’ve also made a spiritual friend in Shirley Chisholm. We have a few things in common, we both had a strong father figure, we both became educators, and we both believe strongly in equality and making an impact in the world.