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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » BLACK HISTORY MONTH PROGRAM DEBUTS WORK BY OPRAH NETWORK ACTRESS


Utopian Academy for the Arts will host a special Black History Month Program today that was written and directed by a Hollywood television star who is an artist in residence at the public charter school. The show will take center stage at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. at Utopian Academy, which is located at 6630 Camp Street in Riverdale. The production was a labor of love for stage and screen actress Tonia Jackson, who has a recurring role in Oprah’s hit drama “Greenleaf” and has appeared in the Golden Globe Award-winning series “Atlanta.” img_1097img_1098 Jackson was hired as a part-time teacher at Utopian Academy in the fall to expand the drama program. Her presence gives scholars a first-hand view of what it is like to be a professional actress in show biz. Jackson has appeared in more than 150 plays, seven television shows, and several films. Her passion for sharing the arts with children brought her to Utopian Academy. She discovered the school when a fellow actor told her that Utopian Academy was providing a high quality education for children of Clayton County Public Schools who wanted to study the arts as they learn core subjects. “My way of giving back is to work with children,” Jackson said. “During the civil rights movement, it was young people that were on the front lines. Martin Luther King Jr. was in his 30s when he died. I think if we can continue to pour positive things into our young people, we can change our community and the world.” Jackson has made a commitment to students to juggle her work schedule as an actress around her work schedule as a teacher. And she hopes other professionals in and outside of the entertainment industry join her at Utopian Academy. Some have visited her at Utopian Academy to tour the building and speak to scholars. The special guests include Walter Dallas, award-winning stage director; television show director, Christopher Permian, manager and father of Raven Symone; Cas Sigers, television/movie screenwriter; Brandi Harvey, executive director of the Steve & Marjorie Harvey Foundation; and Angel Massey, mother and manager of Hollywood stars Kyle and Chris Massey. “I think it’s critical for all of us to get on board to help children in schools like Utopian so we can figure out as individuals what it is that we can do besides talk,” she said. “It has to be about action. Programs like this are crucial for Clayton County.” Jackson’s Black History Month play was written to inspire audiences to get active in the movement to improve living conditions, job opportunities, and access to the ballot box for people of color, immigrants, and the economically disadvantaged. “The kids are doing some fantastic work in the play,” she said. The play opens with a celebratory scene depicting life in Africa before the slave trade. The drama then unfolds with scenes from slavery, emancipation, the Great Migration North, the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights and black power movements, the “War Against Drugs,” and the fight against police brutality that continues today. “We go into music and how much music is the soul of black folks,” Jackson said. “We used music for everything, the good times and the bad times. In the play, you will hear music by Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jackson Five, and Marvin Gaye.” In one scene, dance soloist Janiah Turner uses her lyrical movements to artfully depict a lynching as the song “Strange Fruit” sung by Nina Simone plays in the background. The play also has cameos by students portraying popular figures in black history from Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to Booker T. Washington. The show ends with Maya Angelou’s “And Still I Rise,” which depicts the strength of the black community to overcome obstacles in history and challenges in the present day. “The poem shows that the future is hopeful, not hopeless,” Jackson said. “Black people figure things out. We just keep going.”

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