Monét Noelle Marshall

When the world is destroyed, someone must remake the world. I think you’d call that art.

-The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

 

My Purpose + My Half Birthday

Today is my half birthday! I am currently  26 years, 6 months, 3 hours and 32 minutes old. I only get a half birthday every four years so this is a big deal! And I want to tell you a secret....

Ready?

I applied to grad school. [Spoiler Alert!] I didn't get in. Whomp whomp. But no pity party here. I know that what's meant for me is mine and something greater is already coming. But I want to share my statement of purpose with you. Because not being accepted doesn't make it any less true.  Here goes:

"September 19, 2015 marked 166 years and 2 days since Harriet Tubman and her brothers escaped from slavery. On September 19, 2015, there met a group of people, standing on what was once one of the largest plantations in Eastern North Carolina, singing And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free. These people included my family, students from North Carolina Central University, a friend and grocery store clerk who agreed to play an overseer, a Mary Kay representative, child-care providing mother-to-be, my 12-year-old neighbor, a pharmacist and a Wake County bus driver who played a slave and his white wife who played the Missus. There was also an audience that spanned race, age and class. And then there was me, the director, a 26-year old Black woman with a retired NYPD officer for a daddy and an artist from a sharecropping family for a mama; a New Yorker that attended a historically Black university and considers Durham, North Carolina home. That moment was not lost on me.

In the final talk back, an older white man stated that we’ve dealt with slavery “here” (pointing to his head) but the healing needs to happen “here” (pointing to his gut).

“It needs to be visceral,” he said, “and what you did tonight was visceral”.

It is my goal that his statement is echoed and shared about everything I create. I want to craft experiences that elicit emotions in myself and others; because if nothing else, art should make us feel. It should not always make us feel good, but it should always make us feel.

I believe in the power of the arts. I believe that performance on one’s own terms imbues the self with confidence and creative energy that extends past the playing space. I believe that the arts play a crucial role in social justice movements as one combats not only the institutions of oppression, but also the performance of it. The arts also prove fruitful in the collective imagining of future realities. In the same way that the word “teleport” was introduced into society and has yet to prove possible, I believe that performance has the potential to introduce solutions into society before they even seem plausible. And just as scientists toil away in their efforts to make teletransportation a viable mode of travel, so too can performance serve as a social soothsayer, creating worlds worth fighting towards.  

With the belief that the arts can be both revolutionary and redemptive, I intend to focus my academic attention on how performance impacts the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health of individuals, particularly those in the Black community. I will gather qualitative data through surveys and interviews, as well as, quantitative data through biophysical exams before, during and after the performance, with a focus on blood pressure. While pursuing my graduate degree, I am also interested in teaching a course titled,”The Performance of Identity,” which will explore the construct of identity as a whole and challenge students to examine how they perform their identities in their daily lives. With prompts like: “Do you use your identity as a weapon?” “How have you performed power this week? and “Describe a day in the life of your identity opposite.”, this course will further highlight how identity is a complex structure that is constantly in flux and oft impacted by the historical moment we find ourselves in.

I want to be an artist, activist, educator and scholar; someone with the ability to filter scholarship through the arts in order to deliver it to the community in accessible, digestible morsels.  I feel a responsibility to feed others because I, too,  am hungry. I hunger for answers to my questions that beget more questions. I have a voracious appetite for stimulating, mind-tingling conversations and I relish every opportunity to chew on complex concepts. I believe that, if accepted, this program would more than sate my hungers."

Cover Photo by Chris Charles

Background image by Flickr user SlimJim