I WILL: a response to Fire in the Belly, night 3 September 27, 2008
By: Sarah McCann

I WILL.  I HAVE. I DO. I STRIVE.  These are the words burned into my mind after a night at the Creative Alliance for the final performances of Fire in the Belly, a weekend of presentations surrounding the Black Arts Movement & Arts/Activism + Race in Baltimore.  The night began with a phone call to Marshall Eddie Conway, former Black Panther Party member, imprisoned for the last 37 years and currently incarcerated at Hagerstown.  

Eddie works with a group organized by the American Friends Service Committee that has set up a mentorship program within the prison.  The group also does yoga and has a drama component.  Following Eddie’s conversation, two plays written by prisoners were performed.

Art, as it attempts to mirror life, while reflecting truth often finds neither.  Yet, on rare occasions as the great works heralded in the canon sometimes illustrate art can, at moments, reflect all the feelings of being alive.  And this is what I found to be the case while watching the performances of this night.  The first, beginning in a prison, with several men about to be released, planning on how to make money once on the outside, climaxed with a scene of such emotion that I connect it to the painting, Raft of Medusa, by Gericault.  I could think of nothing else, seeing the compositions of bodies, combined with the raw emotion.  A desperate man wanting nothing more than to fix his little girl’s broken leg without a job or health care and to save his mother’s house.  The violence this causes against people that have nothing to do with his circumstance, but who are within reach is the reality of many lives and deaths. 

Following this performance a man enters the stage, a man who acts as a chameleon.  In prison, he is able to connect with the Bloods, the Crypts, this Muslims and the Christians, but a 6’8” cellmate disrupts his conceived power.  The question I am left with at the end of this vignette is, how can we treat each other as human, when so many things divide us, including just the physical fact of strength?  How can we use this strength to work together, instead of against each other?

A play by Bashi Rose came next.  Three women sit upon the stage, one of which has been alive for a hundred eighty-five years.   They talk of their work, blowing the head of a councilman and poking his balls with pushpins.  They consider how he pleads with them that he is human, but without addressing any of them as human, not even looking them in the eyes.
How do we act as humans?  How do we treat each other right?  Sonia Sanchez, the concluding performer of the night, ended her reading with the statement that unless we answer the question of being human in this 21st Century, we will not make it into the 22nd.  She spoke of her experiences, she read her poems and in this way concluded a night of touching, real and honest art.  It is rare to find such a combination. 

I thank them all.  Traveling through this world, sometimes we find people and art that give glimpses of the possibilities that humans have.  It is this unrealized potential that limits what we do.  It’s about time we tapped into that potential.  The artists and performers of this night have encouraged me to say, “I will.”